Wednesday, March 12, 2014


What is social justice?
What do we mean by these words?
What does social justice look like?

This is the question raised in a recent meeting of the co-directors of the Columbus Area Writing Project.

This question stuck in my mind after our meeting.
I wrestled and reasoned with it, rambled and wandered with it ...

What is social justice?

I raise my voice for you
because you cannot speak for yourself
you have been silenced.

We stand up for them
because they have been knocked down
held down
can't get up

We see
We raise our voices.
We inform.
bear witness
in poetry

Our voices
seek to
tell your story
to tell my story
to tell our stories--
to reconcile and heal.

Our actions
impact the globe.

Our words 
give birth to new worlds.

What is social justice?
What does it say?
What does it do?

The Oxford Dictionaries define it as follows:
Social justice is justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.
But then the question remains what is justice itself?

The same Oxford Dictionaries define justice thus:
The quality of being fair and reasonable and also administration of the law or authority in maintaining this quality.
According to the collective everyone of Wikipedia, Social Justice is:
... the ability people have to realize their potential in the society where they live.Classically, "justice" (especially corrective justice or distributive justice) referred to ensuring that individuals both fulfilled their societal roles,[2] and received what was due from society. "Social justice" is generally used to refer to a set of institutions which will enable people to lead a fulfilling life and be active contributors to their community.[3] The goal of social justice is generally the same as human development, and the relevant institutions are usually taken to include educationhealth caresocial securitylabour rights, as well as a broader system of public servicesprogressive taxation and regulation of markets, to ensure fair distribution of wealthequality of opportunity, and no gross inequality of outcome.
The Wikipedia entry goes on to trace the history of the concept of social justice  in philosophy. religion, politics, as well as education and social justice movements

In addition to these general definitions, various professions and interest groups also offer their official understandings.

For example, The National Association of  Social Workers present social justice in the context of their work:
 Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.
The United Nations has sponsored  World Day of  Social Justice annually since 2007.  At this year's event on February 20, 2014. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon began his message with the following words:

The gap between the poorest and the wealthiest around the world is wide and growing. ... We must do more to empower individuals through decent work, support people through social protection, and ensure the voices of the poor and marginalised are heard."
 Click here to read his entire Message  for this year and past years.

 The United Nations World Day of Social  Justice page begins with the following  

Social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations. We uphold the principles of social justice when we promote gender equality or the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. We advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability.
For the United Nations, the pursuit of social justice for all is at the core of our global mission to promote development and human dignity. The adoption by the International Labour Organization of the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization is just one recent example of the UN system’s commitment to social justice. The Declaration focuses on guaranteeing fair outcomes for all through employment, social protection, social dialogue, and fundamental principles and rights at work.

As we engage in dialogue, what do we each  mean by social justice?

What do we do after the conversations and discussions, as we seek to promote and  do social justice?

As writers and teachers, as citizens and human beings, what is our responsibility?

According to Secretary Arne Duncan in remarks made at the University of Virginia on October 9, 2009, education is social justice:

I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. And if you care about promoting opportunity and reducing inequality, the classroom is the place to start. Great teaching is about so much more than education; it is a daily fight for social justice.
I offer the potential of social action writing to explore these questions and our role as educators, and as  a tangible response to our observations, concerns, and  passions in the world.

In the Preface to Fire and Ink: An Anthology of Social Action Writing, the authors answer the question What is social action writing?

Social action writing is a form of critical inquiry and an act of social responsibility.  It speaks out against social injustice and refuses to acquiesce to the tyranny of action writers continue to bear witness to their lived experiences and those of their communities.  They retrieve and reclaim stories that others have miswritten or are currently  miswriting.  As Gloria Anzualdua reminds us in This Bridge Called My Back, " I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me about you." 
When a people loses control of its own narratives--both in the past and today--what continuously get erased and  "miswritten" are not only the stories of injustice--the daily and historically rooted realities of inequality and oppression--but also the equally important stories of resistance.

I am currently reading this book and am impressed with the depth and breath of social action writing selections included in this comprehensive anthology. You can preview Fire and Ice by Frances Payne Adler, Debra Busman, and Diana Garcia here.

I offer  this volume to support you as you explore social action writing in your  personal and professional writing.  Chapter 10 speaks directly to teaching and imagining new possibilities in social action writing and will support you, if and as you work with student writers.

 Two additional resources  may also be helpful, as you continue or initiate engagement in social action writing.

For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action

Writing to Live: How to Teach Writing for Today's World

And finally, you may also find my previous and related posts helpful:

Against Forgetting: Poetry of Witness

The Poetry of Resilience

You Do Not Define Me: Telling our Own Stories

Trials of Our Nation

The Danger of a Single Story

The Rights of Children

Women: Power Unspoken

What is social justice?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

What is social justice?  
Explore this concept in writing today.

You may reflect  and contemplate in a poem, an essay or a narrative.

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