While I was on a recent radio show, a student called in from a campus “Rally Against 1070,” that challenged Arizona’s draconian immigration law. The rally was a great idea, part of the public outcry that’s needed. But I wish they’d called it something like “Rally Against the Show Us Your Papers Law.” Headlining it with a bill number gave people nothing to respond to emotionally.
Over nearly forty years that I’ve spoken out on various causes and written about citizen movements, I’ve come to believe that people work for justice when their hearts are stirred by specific lives and situations that develop our capacity to feel empathy, to imagine ourselves as someone else. New information–the percentage of people out of work or children in poverty, the numbers behind America’s record health care costs, the annual planetary increases in greenhouse gases–can help us comprehend the magnitude of our shared problems and develop appropriate responses. But information alone can’t provide the organic connection that binds one person to another, or that stirs our hearts to act.