Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Numeracy and Democracy

My dad is a statistician/methodologist in psychology, and sent me images of this amazing art installation in Seattle: It aims to provide a sense of proportion over our waste, and I think it's profound.

Depicts 60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the US every five seconds.
© Chris Jordan

Detail at actual size:
© Chris Jordan

In several classes this week, I've been speaking with students about political awareness and apathy. I am especially moved by the significance of democracy and our privilege, given the events in Zimbabwe this week over the elections. Yet at the same time, a University Senate sponsored rally against racism drew a pathetic few demonstrators with no clear message, and no clear aim.

Art can be a great way to raise consciousness. Although it tends to preach to the converted, it provides motivation and vision in a way that grassroots politics and activisim no longer seems to.


Noumena said...

a University Senate sponsored rally against racism drew a pathetic few demonstrators with no clear message, and no clear aim.

In high school in the late '90s, my AP Government class went to a conference on youth and government sponsored by some big-name liberal organisation. (I forget which now. Maybe the ACLU.) The idea was simply to get young people interested in political issues.

The conference itself was fun. At the end of the day, though, the organisers had planned a `rally' -- we would walk from the hotel hosting the conference to the state capitol (3 or 4 blocks) and stand on the capitol steps for an hour. Since the rest of my class was pretty conservative (I was the token socialist), we followed along by about half a block, just to see what was going to happen, rather than really participating.

The rally wasn't about anything. The organisers passed out signs with such thought-provoking slogans as `We support the youth!' So 75 17-year-olds stood on the steps of the state capitol for an hour, vaguely waving these meaningless signs. Maybe there was someone on a loudspeaker trying to lead a chant of these same slogans.

After watching for a few minutes, even I was glad to duck inside the capitol with the rest of my class, to meet a Republican lobbyist and look at the historical murals.

Two years later, I was in college outside of Seattle during the WTO protests. That was a demonstration with a purpose.

Catherine Hundleby said...

Wow. That's exactly the sort of weird "official" rally I've been seeing. It's so perverse!!!

I real rally can be both effective and uplifting, but going through the motions is a very strange exercise.