“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
– Ralph Ellison
When it comes to people being invisible, there are a couple of types of invisibility to consider. Both kinds represent significant challenges in the process of trying to effect social change.
First, there are people, or groups of people that are deliberately unrecognized. They often have few financial resources, are generally of poorer health, have less social capital, and are often considered by much more privileged people, as being less important.
The second group of “invisible” people, or groups of people are deliberately hidden. These are people of wealth and influence, whose activities allow them to rig social and political systems under the radar of most people.
The deliberately unrecognized, the unheard, and the unseen, are often at the heart of changes we are trying to create. It is important to amplify their voices, and to shed light on their realities. Awareness, education, and advocacy are key strategic goals. For example, if your city doesn’t have homeless people on street corners, and in parks, officials may deny that homelessness is something they need to be concerned about. Only by hearing the stories of people who are couch hopping, sleeping under bridges, or in cars, can you reveal the true extent of your community’s lack of affordable housing.
It is important to understand that the “invisible” are not simply needy, or victims. Giving voice to the invisible serves to uncover potential strategic approaches and assets. They are the people who often know the best solutions to overcoming the challenges that they face. Any social change effort should seek to leverage people at the margins; not as sad examples, but as full partners in planning the future.
“The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.”
– Woodrow Wilson
Revealing the invisible may not only expose unfairness and inequality, but it can also uncover something on the other end of the privilege spectrum – the so-called, power behind the throne that is working in opposition to your goals. This influence is usually purchased with large amounts of money.
These influencers are usually very careful to not actually break any laws, despite the fact that their actions may be ethically abhorrent. You may never come close to matching their financial clout, but exposing their role can, however, be beneficial. This is because the money trail points to real self-interests, as opposed to those being touted in your opposition’s misleading rhetoric. In some cases, it may be possible to boycott the source of the influencer’s income, or at least send some bad publicity their way.
Ultimately, it will probably be more effective to spend more time on revealing the realities of the deliberately unrecognized, than on exposing the deliberately hidden. That is where there is more untapped power; and it is the kind of power that money can’t buy.