Facebook Is My Soapbox — And I'm NOT Stepping Off Anytime Soon

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Stand on your soapbox. Shout the truth. Help us all move forward.

Two hundred years ago, hardly anyone could read. Most people in America had no right to vote, and of those who could, many didn’t, as they were not able to read and learn about issues or candidates. 

People who were passionate about issues literally stood on soapboxes in the town square and shouted, informing the passersby about the issues of the day. We laugh at those people, now, but they were important back then.

It’s easy to forget that we live in the future. We might not have flying cars but we walk around with a device in our pockets that can connect us instantly to nearly anyone we have ever met, and millions more we never have.

Living in this future is confusing. Sometimes, we want to reject the changes wrought by technology but at the same time, we revile the way things were done in the past.

One hundred years ago, things were changing nearly as fast as they are now. We fought two World Wars, and they ushered in an era of transformation for our country. Public education became mandatory and the masses learned to read, the fight for racial equality gained momentum. Newspapers sprung up everywhere, suddenly accessible to more than the few.

The “Letter to the Editor” became one of the easiest ways for anyone to have their voice heard, to teach lessons to their neighbors about the issues of the day. Even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used letters in the newspaper to persuade people to his cause. It wasn’t his “I Have A Dream” speech that pulled millions of northern Whites to his cause, it was his “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.”

What we have now is somewhere in between the public letter and standing on a soapbox, screaming in the town square. Now, we have Facebook. We have Dan Rather and Robert Reich taking to Facebook instead of their local, or even national, newspapers.

Instead of the one person in town with an education standing in the town square, screaming the news to passersby, we have friends who post constantly about the state of politics, elections, and protests.

Fighting about politics on Facebook can feel pointless. You are constantly confronted with confirmation biases, with a disregard for facts, with an outright rejection of the news media, with an overwhelming tide of “fake news.”

But using Facebook as a platform to talk about politics is essential. What the soapbox shouters knew is what Facebook political arguers know now: you are almost never arguing with the person in your conversation.

You are putting on a show. You aren’t trying to convince the one person who disagrees with you, who calls you names. You are showing the quiet people, the lurkers, how to have their own arguments. How to convince their own families. How to talk about complicated issues with people who want nothing to do with it, but who must learn enough to protect their own best interests.

For every person calling you a “snowflake” or a “libtard,” there are eight people watching, reading, and learning. And for every eight people who watch, read, and learn, there are two who take away the tools and motivation to stand up for what’s right, as well.

Just as two hundred years ago, somebody might have dragged their idiot brother to the town square to listen to the man on the soapbox shout about the evils of slavery, the dangers of populism and Andrew Jackson, and the need for worker’s rights, now they will tag you in a Facebook status and bring you and the argument to somebody else.

The public conversation about issues facing us has always been critical, but the way we have that conversation is changing. Your Facebook is your soapbox; it’s your newspaper and it’s something else entirely. Something new.

Yes, when you argue politics, you are doing good in the world. Yes, you are advancing the conversation on a cultural, societal level. Yes, you are making a difference.

And once in a while, you get an email or a call from a friend, saying thanks to you, thanks to all the arguing they’ve seen you do, all the sources and statistics and facts you cite, all the urgency you show, they had that argument, too.

They stood up to their parents, or coworkers, or siblings. And they made their voice heard, and even if only for one day, in their own life, they made a difference.

Stand on your soapbox. Shout the truth. Help us all move forward.

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