Congratulations to Wednesday Journal for publishing the insightful piece on cancel culture by Esmie Alwaeli. [The downside of ‘Cancel Culture’, Viewpoints, May 25] It is time for progressives to speak up about this damaging culture along with its toxic twin, “wokeness.” This is especially important in progressive municipal centers such as Oak Park. I hope Alwaeli’s argument as a high school student generated discussions among Oak Park and River Forest parents.
Stakeholders and partners in creating a social transformation infrastructure which can be touched and experienced are often afraid of speaking up about these toxic twins. We don’t like to be called racist, against our own kind if one is brown-skinned like me, or be the human bathroom wall for other accusations that rapidly deteriorate into nonsensical grandiloquence.
Cancel culture destroys things; it does not create something new. The social transformation infrastructure takes building, with a great deal of patience, capital investment, deferring entertainment, and a busload of faith. The toxic twins have no faith in a society that has the potential to be wonderful yet flawed.
One of the central mechanisms of the Oak Park social transformation structure is Housing Forward. I write this letter as a former Housing Forward client. I am disabled, wheelchair dependent, and I used their services when I was experiencing domestic violence. I not only received temporary shelter from the storm, I was placed in housing. I eventually received a housing choice voucher. In 2022, five years from this dark period, I will be running for City Council in South Tucson, Arizona.
Seventy percent of disabled people report experiencing domestic violence at least once in their life. Changing this statistic and my life did not take saying the right, woke thing or destroying someone else’s life; it took the social transformation infrastructure. In Oak Park with Housing Forward, this takes churches opening their doors, residents not shunning the homeless in Starbucks, hundreds of volunteers, and the selfless service of donors who pay for hotels for domestic violence victims so we can’t be found.
As many clients are also people of color, disabled with mental illness or a physical illness, it takes empathy exchanges. It takes the homeless answering questions to volunteers without offense. It takes caring about mentally ill clients who may say racist, sexist or homophobic things out of their mental illness, not their heart. It’s a complex process that takes gentleness and humility. The results are a vulnerable person not freezing to death in the Chicago winter.
For those who know the history of Oak Park, efforts such as Housing Forward — and the racial and economic integration of OP-RF — emerged from the Civil Rights Movement. The movement made gains because it built alternative institutions, including the not oft spoken about institution of individual attitude.
Cancel culture shows us the central importance of attitude and how it can be destructive without constructing something new. This is why real progressives need to be bold in taking action against this destructive and childish force.
Kristopher Hoeks is a former Oak Park resident, now living in South Tucson, Arizona.