While reading Victoria Eubank’s first few chapters in her book, “Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age,” especially the segments on the YWCA study, I couldn’t help but think about one of my favorite musicals, “Le Miserables.” Talk about your activism—the characters in that play runs the gamut of privilege, poverty, and persecution. It’s perfect for the topic of Activism and I’ll explain why.
The story started out as a book by Victor Hugo, and is arguably one of the greatest novels written in the 19th century. The story begins with prisoner 24601, Jean Val Jean. He was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s family, who were very poor and starving. He was convicted and sent to prison. Because of his numerous attempts at escaping, his sentence was prolonged and he was sent to work in the galleys as a prisoner slave for the French government.
Val Jean is finally released from prison 19 years later. He is turned away for lodging and work because of the yellow card he carries deaming him an ex-convict. He becomes bitter and angry, and is about to become a thief once again when the generosity of a kind priest, changes his life. He works his way up the ranks of society and becomes a successful businessman and government official.
The character of Val Jean and his lot in life made me think about Eubank’s book, notably her study of YWCA women and her group, “Women at the YWCA Making Social Movement,” or WYMSM. Jean Val Jean has a strong sense of fairness and liberty. He sees the flaws in the system but wants to make it work for the greater good. He strives to be a kind and good leader, and offers help to others like the kind priest once did for him.
The women at the YWCA are similar in that vein. They were apprehensive at first about their open forum on hunger, but once it began it empowered them and made them want to learn and do more. They wanted to make a change and help others, just like Val Jean.
To continue with another group of characters in “Le’ Mis…” lets take a look at those handsome young men from the French resistance. Namely Marius and his friends, who believe the government in France needs an overhaul. These young men, mostly students, from privileged families are angry at the way the French government treats those less fortunate. Much like Eubanks herself. Although, Eubanks gets to live, the young men in the book aren’t as lucky. They lead a revolt and build a barricade in the center of Paris. They try to start a revolution but are quickly outnumbered and are killed by French soldiers. All except Marius that is, who is gravely wounded. Val Jean saves Marius and in turn, he later helps ValJean. It doesn’t hurt that he’s in love with Jean Val jean’s adopted daughter, Cosette.
Ok, so the people in Hugo’s world didn’t have to think about digital technology as we do now, but the fight is still the same in many ways. The “magical thinking” the young men had ultimately leads to their downfall. It doesn’t seem to change anything in the system, which means their deaths were for not. The great divide between privilege and poverty, and the digital age is a dilemma, one that a group of revolutionists with grand ideas can’t change, not alone anyway. But it’s nice to know people like Eubanks are actively striving to make the world a better place. She is someone who understands “magical thinking,” and is trying to find the practical and real answer.