In an increasingly chaotic political climate, journalist and activist Shaun King visited Colorado College to inspire the student body and delineate the criteria for creating social change. Given on Feb. 20, his talk focused on the effects of social media, police violence, and the progression of humanity.
King gave his lecture in Shove Chapel, a venue filled by both CC students and Colorado Springs community members. Ranked as one of the top 25 most influential people on the internet by TIME, he has written over 1,500 articles on injustice since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. Deeply affected by police brutality, and working as an activist in college, King has now dedicated much of his life to fighting injustice. Despite all this, he sees himself “first and foremost as a husband and father.”
A central focus of King’s work is social media. According to him, “social media has changed the way we see and think of one another.” Much of his activism began on his social media accounts, such as Twitter where he has over one million followers. He jokingly commented how when people meet him, they will often refer to him as “@shaunking.”
He continuously emphasized that “we are in a deeply problematic point in the history of our country.” King explained that, of the 43 states he has presented in, he has “yet to meet a member of the audience that disagrees with that notion.” His first example of this was the recent shooting in Aurora, Ill. that took 10 lives, but received little media attention, simply because it’s now “commonplace” for an event like that to occur.
King’s other example referenced the Washington Post’s “fact-checker” that tracks the falsehoods told by politicians on both sides of the political spectrum. According to the Post, President Donald Trump has made misleading or false statements over 9,000 times in the past two years, which is substantially more than the average person. “What does it mean to have a human being that is president that has lied this much?” questioned King. “It’s disturbing.”
Another issue King communicated was the current family separations happening at America’s southern border. He presented a unique perspective regarding this situation when he brought up the Holocaust; “How did surrounding countries let that happen?” he asked. The issue that King sees with this dilemma is that “It’s hard to know a moment in history when you’re in it.” In so many history books, only the big moments are discussed, but King pointed out how smaller things like bathroom breaks are never included: “But that’s actually how life unfolds.”
In this peculiar yet pivotal time, we still have to live life. Although one can be enraged and worried by the separation of children from their parents at the border, we still have responsibilities. Students still need to attend class, people still need to do their jobs, and individuals still deserve some level of enjoyment in their lives.
King explains how this causes a lot of issues to feel less problematic than they actually are. He also reflected on a common sensation that many students get when they are sitting in class, stressed about the bigger picture of life — seeing class itself as useless.
As technology improves steadily over time, it’s often expected that humanity advances as well. On the contrary, there is little evidence that the improvement of technology improves the morality of human beings. In the history of humans, only eight percent of the time have we all been truly at peace.
“Humanity over time is like a rollercoaster,” King said, explaining that, at this time, we are certainly in a dip. “In the scheme of human history, the Holocaust was yesterday.” According to King, the deadliest anti-Black hate crime since 1930 occurred in 2015 when Dylann Roof murdered nine peaceful churchgoers. He then asked the question, “If we are getting better and better, how do we explain that?”
However, King emphasized, that the solution is not simply to vote in a new president. “Trump is a symptom of the dip,” he said. “He was elected because we were already here.” For example, mass incarceration went up in both democratic and republican governments, even though overall it is a bipartisan issue.
King also pointed out that in all of human history people always eventually pull themselves out of the dip. He believes that some generation will find their way up, and his hope is that it is us.
In order to achieve this, King laid out four necessary criteria for creating broad-scale changes. The first need is highly energized people; whether this energy comes from excitement, rage, hope, or sorrow does not matter, but energy is essential. The second necessity is organized people. With pure energy and no organization, very little can be accomplished. Knowing what each individual in the organization is good at will increase overall efficiency and effectiveness of a project.
The third necessary criterion is “a plan as sophisticated as the problem.” Protests, marches, and spreading awareness can help, but plans must be comprehensive and robust to initiate effective changes. The fourth piece is resources. King believes that change can be made with the first three criteria, but huge, lasting impacts come ultimately from resources such as funding. He thinks one of the few groups with all four criteria is the National Rifle Association. This has made it one of the most powerful political lobbyist groups in America.
So how does King recommend we make small changes on our own? He believes that through creating relationships and valuing integrity, change can and will be made. His opinion is that “everyone has privilege” in some form or other, and “it is our job and duty to see how we can use the privilege we have to further others.”