Do Not Stand Idly By

I’ll be honest. I’ve slacked off on almost every essay in this class. Something about writing just gives me the uncontrollable urge to leave it until the last minute. My procrastination began in tenth grade, when I realized I could circumvent my family’s “no video games on school nights” rule by covertly playing while my parents were out of the house. I soon fell into the habit of allowing myself to be distracted by things far more fun than working, which has hurt my academic career to this day. The first quarter of college, me having moved out and now having the freedom to waste my time as I pleased, allowed my issue to manifest itself to the

fullest as I earned (as my parents would have me believe) an abysmal 2.7 GPA, a full point lower than the lowest I’ve ever previously received. Drastic measures were taken; I was forced to sign a contract with my parents voiding my life savings and forcing me to get a full time job should I not improve my grades. My scholarship to Santa Clara University hinges on the corollary that I maintain a 3.0 GPA or better, and if this is not met, I will lose more than $20,000 per year. In other words, my family won’t be able to afford college without the $8,000 and change I’ve worked 18 years to save up, plus the extra income I would bring in working full time. Though it seemed draconian to me at the beginning, it’s mostly just a quality of life change. Thousands of kids have to pay their own way through college, and I could honestly make the adjustment if it came down to that. But although I’d survive, I would much rather continue being generously provided for by my family, which means keeping my grades up. Knowing this inspired me to take action, and make a proactive effort to improve both my habits and my scores. I may not succeed, but when I get my grades back, I’ll know that I gave it far more effort than I have in years.

If you were to look on the news today, you’d see that our outlook seems pretty grim. Our political system is tied up and immobile while Russia looks like it’s mounting to rebuild the USSR. If we don’t die of eating rancid, factory farmed meat, we will die from clogging our arteries with twinkies. Nobody is sure if we will run out of oil and the world’s machines will come grinding to a halt, or we will choke in our own atmosphere from all the carbon dioxide before the supply runs dry. Seeing all of these problems is the opposite of inspiring. In fact, given huge, global issues like this, the most tempting thing to do is to avoid taking action to solve them. As individuals we are so inconsequential that nothing we do could ever make an impact on the global stage. It is better to continue living life contently, eating twinkies and driving hummers and hoping the solutions will be reached by higher powers than oneself.

Although many of the world’s problems seem too big to solve, with cooperative action from enough motivated individuals, there is no issue too vast for us to overcome. Living passively just prolongs the inevitable, for as global issues begin to come to a head, even those who feel sheltered and protected in their insulated suburban lifestyles will be affected. This has been the subject of my writing throughout the course; in each essay, I have examined a major issue currently plaguing American society and shown the steps that people have already taken to solve them, including some of my own suggestions for a solution. Some of the stories are quite exceptional, showing how a few dedicated individuals were able to bring about major change. The purpose of my writing, when it comes down to it, was to motivate people to take action by providing examples of how individual effort can go a long way in order to get rid of the notion that each person is too small to make a difference.

It all starts with taking action. The way I define action is pretty specific yet not very concrete at the same time. To me, action is doing something in order to bring about change. You can take action to do something as small as turn on the TV or fix your procrastination problem, to something as large as confronting the issue of obesity in America. Though each person may only be able to take action in their immediate surroundings, when enough people mobilize in a concerted effort, they can be successful in bringing about changes far larger than any of the individuals’ spheres of influence.

The issue of unfair treatment of prisoners in America is an example of mass action being effective. In my first essay of CTW 2, I researched the phenomenon of hunger strikes, in which a person or group of people will go days on end without food in order to change a policy they see as unfair. This is a beautiful example of taking action by my definition, since it acts as a tool for an oppressed minority to combat the powers that be. The power of a hunger strike lies in its ability to gain public support, thereby motivating a force much larger than the minority alone to take action. This has been shown through the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, where only a few hundred inmates have made themselves a national issue for over 10 years. This is astounding, given how small a group they are and that they are nearly cut off from all contact with the outside world. These protesters, many of which are innocent, are continuously using hunger strikes to protest the cruel treatment they face on a daily basis.

Camp X-ray, Cuba
Camp X-ray, Cuba (from Wikipedia.com)

One of the best sources in which I learned about some of the harsh realities of Guantanamo was the book Five Years of My Life by Murat Kurnaz. Kurnaz was an innocent man detained for years in the prison, and after receiving his freedom, went on to write this scalding account of his disgusting treatment at the hands of the U.S. military (Kurnaz). As these accounts become more and more visible to the public, the inmates’ strength increases; more lawyers join their cause to do pro bono work, and the government is having more and more trouble ignoring the issue. With the cause growing every day, it is possible for this conflict to be resolved within the next few years.

Another issue in which major public interest has made considerable headway is the ethical treatment of animals, specifically of the orca whales in SeaWorld. The documentary Blackfish is a great source of information about this topic, and although it has been criticized for being overly biased, it is a pretty accurate piece of investigative journalism. After Blackfish came out, there was an uproar across the internet of people who just wouldn’t stand to see the orca whales malnourished, mistreated, separated from their young, and more (Nye).

Dawn Brancheau, trainer killed by disturbed whale Tilikum
Dawn Brancheau, trainer killed by disturbed whale (from CBSNews.com)

As the hype around Shamu and friends increased, more and more people began to boycott the park. Though in most cases any of these individuals boycotting the park themselves would have had almost no effect whatsoever, the large numbers of protesters combined with the media attention that the conflict has garnered has forced SeaWorld to promise to improve conditions for the whales (though they still vehemently deny the events of Blackfish). Through the combined effort of people from all walks of life, steps are being taken to rectify the problem.

The remainder of my essays were about issues that still need to be resolved, but are totally within reach should enough dedicated people rally to the cause. My first essay addressed the issue of American obesity and the lack of healthy food available for the lower income bracket. Resolving this will be truly an enormous task, since the food industry has many deep-seated ties to the political system and is entrenched in a position of power, but many individuals are making the effort to expose the industry’s darker side (Foer). Two great resources to learn about this massive problem are Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and Food Inc. the documentary. These two expository pieces contain a vast amount of research on factory farming and the current status of the food industry, along with the experts’ opinions on how to remedy the issue.

My second essay was along a similar vein, having to deal with corporate accountability, but general as opposed to a specific industry. This essay outlined the discrepancies between how people and corporations are treated by law, even though according to the Citizen’s United case, corporations are people. Information about these instances often comes up on the major news networks, and I consulted many articles from CNN, The New York Times, and Fox News to get a wide variety of opinions and stances on the issue.

Elvira Arellano, prominent anti-deportation activist
Elvira Arellano, prominent anti-deportation activist (from Latinospost.com)

My final essay for the first quarter was on the issue of immigration reform, which has also been very popular on the news lately; more and more people are migrating across the Mexican border into the U.S., and our laws are very inconsistent as well as inefficient in allowing would-be immigrants to go through the process legally. This issue was one of the closer ones to my heart, since I have some very close friends whose families are living in the country illegally or have been deported, and am a Spanish speaker myself. However, this topic also sees the most ferocious opposition from Americans who feel as though our country is being invaded by outsiders. One can learn a lot about this point of view by watching the Fox News channel, which though visibly biased, invests a lot of its time trying to prove why illegal immigrants will damage America. Both the issues of accountability and immigration reform will require the citizens of the U.S. to take action towards the government, in the forms of both conventional and unconventional political participation, in order to achieve major change.

Humanity has great potential, especially when we can cooperate. We have shown across time that when banded together we may overcome any obstacle. Though it may not seem like much, the little actions we each take, like not going to SeaWorld or writing a letter to our senators about Guantanamo, can have huge effects when amplified by enough people doing their part. The problems that we still face, like obesity, immigration reform, and more, are within our ability to solve. After all, if I can conquer my procrastination problem and finish this post, then anything is possible!

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Works Cited
“Dawn Brancheau SeaWorld Trainer Killed.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and, 2009. Print.
“Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Mar. 2014. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.
“Immigration Reform News 2014: Elvira Arellano Crosses the Border Along With 30 People to Request Visas and Asylum in the US [Video].” Latinos Post RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.
Kurnaz, Murat. Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print.
Nye, James. “‘Killer Whales at Seaworld Had Teeth Removed with Power Drills and Were Left to Mourn on Own after Being Separated from Young’, Claims Shocking New Book.” Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 20 July 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.
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