Thursday, May 8, 2014

So you're an activist...

So you say you’re an activist.

What does that mean? Just how “active” do you have to be to qualify? Is there an exam, a test, a certificate of some kind? Do you only become an activist when the Vancouver police drag you off, eyes streaming with pepper-flavoured tears, and it’s reported as “Local activist arrested”? Or can you be an activist without sacrificing your home, family, welfare, and well-being to your cause?

These questions occur to me because whatever I do, it isn’t enough for some people. If I’m ignorant of some strife in the world, I’m told “Don’t you care?” If I care, people say “How can you stay silent?” If I complain about something, I’m asked “Do you vote?” If I vote, I’m challenged “Do you donate?” If I donate, then it’s “Well, do you volunteer, or do you just throw money at the problem?”

You can see where this pattern leads. By the end I do nothing but deliver meals-on-wheels, serve at soup kitchens, teach underprivileged kids to play hockey, and picket Stephen Harper’s house. Only the last activity sounds in any way enjoyable or fulfilling, but I suspect it doesn’t pay very well. When I sleep, I chain myself to a 300-year old redwood so the clear-cutters can’t get it. I see my kids and friends when they come to visit me in jail or the hospital.

Good times.

I know I’m engaging in the logical failing of reductio ad absurdim, but the essence of my point is valid. How much is enough?

There’s no possible chance I personally am doing enough. I freely admit it. I’m a lazy man—ask anyone—and the idea, for instance, of arming myself with pamphlets and going door-to-door at election season begging for votes turns “my bowels to water,” to use a mainstay of fantasy literature. My own lack of dedication, however, doesn’t stop me from being offended when other people call into question good intentions.

A couple examples:

**When Ender’s Game hit the theatres, there was a boycott from liberals. Card is a diehard enemy of gay rights, and many chose to avoid this latest project of his in an attempt to show him that inhumane beliefs have consequences. Then some of the diehard ACTIVISTS reared up and sneered at the people involved in the boycott. Your efforts are meaningless, give us money, give us time, what you’re doing won’t have any effect.

**An argument about Canadian politics on Facebook (why do we do something so pointless as argue on Facebook? But that’s a discussion for another day… maybe on Facebook): people were throwing their opinions around, and then someone said “Saying things doesn’t do anything. Do you give money to the political party you support? Quit being a slacktivist.”

How is that valuable? To mock and show contempt for someone THAT AGREES WITH YOU, simply because they haven’t given as much of their lives to defend that shared agreement? Sure, the ridiculing of your less-fervent supporters as a tactic to bolster their spirit was first attributed to Gandhi, when he famously said, “Really? You’re gonna eat that? You know the British are still here, right? And you’re gonna have a meal. Wow. Just… wow. And you call yourself a passive resister. You look pretty active to me, pal.”

Awareness of an issue has to be the first step. You spread your message. When you find someone who has the same mindset on the same issue, that is AN ALLY, not an enemy. You try and encourage your allies to do more, yes, but you don’t accomplish that end by belittling their efforts. Nurture them. Show them a path to follow. Give them some productive options in productive ways.

But don’t shut them down when they’re just learning. No one would make it out of kindergarten if that’s how we taught children.

“You think finger painting is going to accomplish anything in this world? Well, it ain’t! So if you can’t solve quadratic equations or name the prime minister of Uruguay, GET OUT OF MY CLASS!! And get your finger out of your nose.”

You don’t make future college graduates that way, and you sure won’t win my support, either.

But so what, right? My support isn’t enough to satisfy you, anyway.

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome. There really does seem to be a hierarchy of commitment that is preached by those (inevitably) positioned closer to the pinnacle than the base. But, from my perspective, even the act of labelling oneself an "activist" is problematic. For someone to self-identify as an activist suggests that the activism in question may have more to do with scripting that person's identity than working toward the cause itself. And this same argument seems to hold when "activists" higher up the hierarchy demean or criticize those beneath them as well.