I have been thinking a great deal this week about the importance of visibility in social justice and progressive political movements in the South. As my team at Neighbors for Equality has been preparing ideas for future work in North Carolina, we have been discussing visibility. Last year we wrote and helped encourage others to embrace the power of the written word. While I think that oral conversations are vital for our visibilities in the South, I also think that we must also embrace and encourage the written work as a public act of dialogue. If progressive voices are not present, they are silent, and a community appears to be monolithic. If progressive voices speak loudly, we are present, and we hold the potential to shift and sustain a public dialogue. We become visible.
I will often encounter people who will write long, extensive posts on social media about particular political issues. Rarely, though, do I see these posts submitted as local letters to the editor. While posting on social media is a wonderful act of visibility, I often wonder why more progressive folks do not seek to make their private words part of an even more public dialogue. I have also noticed friends who will point out a conservative opinion-editorial or letter-to-the-editor, but lack the motivation to respond to such in a public way.
While I readily concede that everyone does not have the privilege to be public regarding their stances on political or social justice issues, I fear that those who do have the privilege often do not use it. With NFE, we wrote various letters to the editor and an opinion-editorial in local papers. I recently wrote a letter-to-the-editor of the Crimson White about the Supreme Court cases regarding LGBTQ rights. I have a personal goal to send in more letters-to-the-editor of local and academic newspapers. Along with encouraging one another to write such pieces, we also must encourage each other by providing peer review or encouraging collaboration with the written word.
When we do have this privilege, we should take it. Having a letter-to-the-editor published is an act that is greater than the individual. A letter helps construct a community’s dialogue about a particular issue. Our words become part of an archived conversation and contribute to the very living conversations in our communities. When we take the time to indulge in elaborate social media posts, I hope we also still engage with traditional media to expand our reaches to people outside of our friend lists. I hope we show that even in rural, small communities that progressives exist and will be visible parts.