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A stranger here myself: Individual action can ignite greater social change

Do we have an obligation to help others? Is there some inherent obligation to “do good?”

That’s probably a far deeper question than what we can really cover here, but it’s been at the heart of the social change springing up as a result of a series of global movements — some violent, some peaceful.

Suddenly, the nexus of news coverage is focusing on equal-rights demonstrations and the proletariat’s freedom from tyranny.

Egyptians ousted Hosni Mubarak and currently hold him at trial. Mohamed Bouazizi started a revolution in Tunisia through self-immolation. The National Transitional Council of Libya is trying to restructure the country after the demise of former leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Syria, Algeria, Jordan, Oman, Yemen, Bahrain and a continually growing list of countries experienced — and are continuing to experience — unprecedented protest.

Joining the list? The United States of America.

If you’ve been reading the news recently, you must have noticed the massive demonstrations creeping up among major U.S. cities, known as the “Occupy” movement.

New York City blossomed with peaceful revolt a month ago. Since then, cities throughout the country caught the fever. Suddenly, citizens are becoming very proactive rather than merely symbolic in their political and economic unrest.

Who better to join in than college students — the easiest, fastest group to reject accepted mores and social clockwork?

Peeved members from New York University, the State University of New York and others joined city protesters.

Has this stopped other universities far outside New York from forming their own protest chapters? Oh, no.

Our own gang of demonstrators at Ohio University resided on a grassy patch of campus. Many ask what they want — that is, what does everyone want? What do all of the demonstrators in our country desire? From coast to coast, a voice is rising, but many can’t quite make out its demands.

I understand it, of course, because they stand against ideas that dig at my conscience.

I don’t like the idea of a powerful minority that can control the docile majority of the nation. That’s a terrifying notion that resoundingly smells of authoritarian rule hidden behind the guise of democracy. No one should really like that.

What I want to know is: How long will change take? Will nonviolent measures ever get the country back to a true democratic state now that wealth is so unequally distributed? Can the notions of equality and capitalism even coexist?

Unfortunately, I have the questions and few of the answers.

My heart wants the little people to win against the powerful “they” who control wealth in this country and, as a result, dictate public policy. My gut says I’ll never see the day, though. But I’d love to be proven wrong.

In the meantime, I feel trapped — but don’t we all? Longingly, I scan news accounts of demonstrations all around and wish to be with those people.

A sense of guilt is really what creeps into my psyche. Does this seem fair? Why should these people on the streets fight for the change that a majority hopes and prays for but will not join physically? This tugs at my heart and mind daily.

I want to toss in a caution and some advice, though: There shouldn’t be guilt associated with not marching right alongside protestors because we can each protest in our own way, regardless of how meek or bombastic you or I might be.

The collection of dissidence we’re witnessing should serve to remind each citizen that we’re allowed to get upset. Sometimes, we shouldn’t be content; at times, we’ve got to get mad.

However, it isn’t only the social system at fault. We need to find the best way to change ourselves in order to better alter a faulty system.

This change can occur at the personal and community level. Both are surely signs of change to come, but how far down the road does that bliss lie?

Joseph Barbaree is a graduate student studying journalism and a columnist for The Post. Tell him what you think at

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