Our friends at the Design Center for Social Intervention (DS4SI) have released a paper for social justice activists, enumerating ten distinct points where cultural activism can supplement policy-oriented organizing efforts. Working with the idea of cultural geography, the Studio recommends that practitioners work with “a wide variety of constituencies” to determine “a description of the place you are thinking about/working in.” This working definition can elucidate tensions within the problem at hand – the metaphorical and literal lay of the land can both pose challenges and offer up the means by which we can address social ills.
Perhaps the most direct way we can recognize this “double-edged sword,” as DS4SI refers to it, is in public space. The paper delineates a boundary we experience everyday, between “appropriate” and “inappropriate” uses of space. Drunken baseball fans can stumble through Boston’s Copley Square, but the queer youth that gather around the fountain there on a weekday afternoon aren’t permitted to loiter. In another example less state authority oriented, the very walkable streets of St. Louis and Atlanta make a visitor wonder why the cultural norm of that city is to drive everywhere.
DS4SI asks us to look for the social joints where interventions might be most successful. A commitment to understanding the particulars of any place, to working with varied groups of constituents and constituencies, and to constantly revisiting that understanding, is integral to this type of strategy.
Disclosure: Groundswell and DS4SI are tight.