5 years ago, I went 4000 Km-ish on motorcycles, trains, planes, and buses through India.
I hadn’t been back to India in over a decade.
If you were to travel my country as an systems engineer, you would be well accustomed to infant mortality, coal skies, lignite coal plants, distillation towers that were unmaintained, power grid failures, medical triage, and how India has become a country that’s unable to cope with its growth in a healthy way because of a lack of access to clean Nuclear energy.
By 5/6, I witnessed the first farmer suicide. Dead bodies still don’t shock me. I’ve seen so many at this point.
At 7, I was making ice cream with rock salt, sugar, and vanilla during power outages.
At 11, my Uncle died from lung cancer.
I wanted to do something about it.
At 14, I supported a corrupt US congressman in the hopes of manipulating US political tectonics to expedite Nuclear policy in India’s favor.
Tom Delay was indicted and now re-elected. He didn’t do anything, he was just trying to lock down the Indian American vote.
At 24, I coughed my way asthmatically through my own country pissed off at the fact that even decades later, we still didn’t have Nuclear energy at the scale that would make a difference.
At 27, I sat depressed as I read the reports of soil where I grew up for periods of time being polluted with high salinity, lead, chromium, nickel, zinc, arsenic and cadmium.
If you ever ask yourself why doesn’t X country have Z.
The answer is almost always primarily —- Energy. Energy is the source code for Nitrogen and Steel, the base chemical feedstocks of progress and scaling.
It is not religion, or that we are ass-backwards, or that we don’t have the intellectual capital. It is almost always a pure and utter lack of energy.
Condoleeza Rice taught me something a few years ago. She was blabbing but in there was some gold. She declared that “The story that’s easiest to retell usually wins.”
There are stories that are hard to tell and retell.
The complicated story of what it is to be black in this country is not one that can be easily retold or shared.
There are stories that are easy to tell, retell, and sell.
The story of the common person in the USA being thrown in jail for simple traffic violations is easy to tell.
The story of Big Government versus the common man is far easier to retell and resonates with an idea that Middle America will back more easily.
The story of non-violent drug violations sending people to jail with violent inmates is an easy story to retell.
Why the pitch is relevant:
It avoids racially divisive context while still having an output that creates more equality for the person of color. The two issues above heavily afflict the minority population in the US, but notice how I avoided mentioning that.
When we think about high efficacy protests with clear and present ROI. It is highly relevant to think of the easiest story to tell that will sell to the largest population.
A Note On the Police:
If you run the demographics on cops, there’s 1.1M police in the USA. They have brothers, mothers, sisters, fathers, and people whom they take care of. Hating on police is likely not an effective strategy given the size and breadth they represent of the population. Especially in parts of the USA where being a cop is a highly respected career choice.
tldr: There are highly addressable issues that would move the needle for the Black Lives Matter movement. I outline one here: Debtor Prisons.
The American Football Star Who Protested Racial Injustice Colin Kaepernick recently kneeled at the national anthem to raise awareness of social injustice toward black people in the USA and at large. He’s a National Football League star in the USA.
Our Current Point in History and News Cycles
Right now, the USA is going through a time where we’re extremely concerned with social justice and race, specifically as it relates to black people. Have a look through Blavity and observe their meteoric rise through internet search rankings. The content about social and judicial injustice is ripe and on everyone’s mind in the USA. Can Colin’s Action as a Celebrity Move the Needle on the Issues that Matter?
But alas, I digress. Back to Colin…..
It’s hard to clarify whether or not Colin Kaepernick’s actions actually make a relevant difference to social/racial injustice.
I’m not necessarily sure this type of action has the strong impact that would drive a meaningful systemic change. As a growth marketer and engineer, I’m always concerned with how to make a protest or fundraiser extremely high ROI. A Side Story About Effective High ROI Protest: One of my favorite protestors is @sinak, he’s the reason you can unlock your cell phone from carrier to carrier in the USA without paying fees. He used his tech skills to drive over 100,000 petition sign ups and change US Laws around telecom companies.
Focus and Sequence matter. He identified the pressure points and applied pressure appropriately to move the needle for 300M Americans.
Moving the needle in a significant way on issues of social justice usually requires more tactical sophistication than simply kneeling at the anthem and making a donation to a non-profit. But Kudos to Colin for raising awareness and getting more people to think about the issues and ask questions.
What Kind of Things Would Advance Society Toward More Equitable Justice?
I spent some time thinking about activities that are high ROI and would be more likely to move the needle on social justice. I immediately thought of Debtors Prisons.
ACCORDING TO THE ACLU – AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: Nearly two centuries ago, the United States formally abolished the incarceration of people who failed to pay off debts. Yet, recent years have witnessed the rise of modern-day debtors’ prisons—the arrest and jailing of poor people for failure to pay legal debts they can never hope to afford, through criminal justice procedures that violate their most basic rights.
State and local courts have increasingly attempted to supplement their funding by charging fees to people convicted of crimes, including fees for public defenders, prosecutors, court administration, jail operation, and probation supervision. And in the face of mounting budget deficits at the state and local level, courts across the country have used aggressive tactics to collect these unpaid fines and fees, including for traffic offenses and other low-level offenses. These courts have ordered the arrest and jailing of people who fall behind on their payments, without affording any hearings to determine an individual’s ability to pay or offering alternatives to payment such as community service.
In response, since 2009, the ACLU and ACLU affiliates across the country have been exposing and challenging modern-day debtors’ prisons, and urging governments and courts to pursue more rational and equitable approaches to criminal justice debt.
Debtors’ prisons impose devastating human costs. They lead to coercive debt collection, forcing poor people to forgo the basic necessities of life in order to avoid arrest and jailing. Debtors’ prisons waste taxpayer money and resources by jailing people who may never be able to pay their debts. This imposes direct costs on the government and further destabilizes the lives of poor people struggling to pay their debts and leave the criminal justice system behind. And most troubling, debtors’ prisons create a racially-skewed, two-tiered system of justice in which the poor receive harsher, longer punishments for committing the same crimes as the rich, simply because they are poor.
Ultimately, debtors’ prisons are not only unfair and insensible, they are also illegal. Imprisoning someone because she cannot afford to pay court-imposed fines or fees violates the Fourteenth Amendment promises of due process and equal protection under the law.
Debtors Prisons may be the single most addressable lowest hanging fruit of the social inequalities in our justice system today that can be solved within 12-24 months of decisive action/protest/and coordination. Samuel Brooke: Enter Modern Day Hero I say 12-24 months because that’s about how long it took Samuel Brooke filed lawsuits against all the private probation companies in Alabama and basically ended the practice in the state. He created a domino effect and municipalities started parting ways with all the private collections and corrections companies. Samuel Brooke is basically the equivalent of Batman.
Debtors prisons, filled with poor people of multiple races, are predominantly black.
Debtors prisons and our system for them in the States is totally ungepatched, messed up, adulterated, and corrupt. If we’re concerned about the judicial system or social justice as it stands today, a great starting point is debtors prisons.
Currently, we have 9 states in the USA that will jail you for failing to pay legal fines. I’m not even talking about legal fines for violent crimes, we’re talking about things like traffic violations and not painting your roof. In 9 states, the inability to pay for violations like these, means an arrest warrant and you going to jail.
The Geography of Our Discontent
The States where people can be jailed for inability to pay fines can occur: New Hampshire, Washington, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, and Missouri.
We should lobby tactically for an end to privately controlled municipal courts. Part of me wonders if this can be done by the boycotting and coercion of businesses that fund local/state representatives.
Each of these 9 states will jail people for failing to pay legal fines. Traffic violations and quality of life ordinances are causing poor black people in the States to be indentured into a life of paying off the judicial system for freedom.
[edit: arguably it’s wrong to knock her because now she’s on the correct side, but I still get irked by a Presidential candidate who doesn’t have the ability to call bullshit anachronism in society when they see it.]