This is what an activist looks like

[Hi folks! I hope you’re enjoying FWD. Thought I’d start my time here with some meta activism.]

I’m disappointed when I hear activists prescribing what other activists ought to do. I’m surprised it doesn’t all come from rich, white, etc, etc, men, and here’s why.

Traditional forms of activism are often not possible or difficult for a given individual. Is a single mother going to go to a rally for paid maternity leave when she can’t find someone to look after her kids? Is someone with chronic pain and/or fatigue going to take kindly to being told they ought to attend a protest? Is it reasonable to expect that everyone has the time, energy, resources and know-how to do research or a survey? Is someone struggling to get by going to have the money to pay to get into a event? Is the crowded, loud meeting held in a room up a flight of steps going to be accessible to everyone?

You see, if you’re claiming to be progressive, but your organising unthinkingly excludes chunks of vulnerable and oppressed people? You are not being progressive. And if you are nevertheless insisting that some other form of activism is not a proper one? You are a douche. If you’re low on resources, and really trying to include folks, that’s one thing. But if you think you have the one true way to save the world, that is quite another.

What I am suggesting is that there are a lot of forms of activism in the world, and looking down one’s nose at some of them is detrimental as well as being offensive to those of us working hard to make valuable contributions in any way we can. It goes beyond ‘well, everyone should do what they can’. It’s not even a case of ‘if you can only contribute a little, that’s fine’. It’s not even just about the privileging of particular modes of contribution. It’s this: I do not know where anyone gets off saying that what another person does to heal the world is less than proper.

Now, I sign petitions and write letters all that sort of thing. I buy badges and do bakesales, too. (These forms of activism have various levels of “proper activism” quotient attached to them. Discussion questions: How much do they tie in with what you do? How traditional do they seem to you?) I do traditional activism – sometimes. I am disabled, and it is not always physically possible to do so. I’ve never attended a rally, for instance (see meloukhia’s related post). Here is a short list of some forms of activism in which I engage that traditional thinking doesn’t call activism:

  • I call out people when they use “ism”-based language.
  • I attempt to be an ethical consumer (and frequently fail, but I’m getting better! And it’s a feature of economic privilege that this form of activism is even possible for me).
  • I try to centre marginal people/experiences/voices in any given situation.
  • I engage with the world, and learn as much as I can about what I can do to make it better.
  • I look into myself and work at unravelling oppressive ideas I have taken on as my own.
  • I assist those around me with their activism where I can and should.

We should be rethinking traditional methods of activism, because progress means rethinking the traditional to make sure we have the very best for ourselves and the world. Even where we’ve assured ourselves we’re progressive. We need to keep thinking, keep examining, not only the world but ourselves.

Because it’s not just pressuring governments that’s important, as important as it is. Central to my activism is what I do right here, right now, in my life and my communities. When it comes down to it, progress is not only in the big sweeping changes. It’s in our souls. It’s in relating to each other with kindness.

I just don’t get it when people say that blogging isn’t real activism, because it is a big deal to this activist. I’ve reached and been reached by so many people, sharing lives that would never otherwise touch! Because the Internet is not composed of individuals shouting into the void. The Internet is composed of people, and we use it to direct attention to issues and petitions and all sorts. And we take what we learn with us to the offline world. Even if this wasn’t so, there is important work to do inside our minds. We have to tease out the oppression we’ve stored in ourselves. We have to understand and learn. Blogs have given me tools to put language and frames to my experience. For instance, reading the work of my co-bloggers amandaw and Lauredhel gave me what I needed to talk about my experiences as a disabled woman, and now we’re doing activism together. You know. Writing isn’t useless. Writing is a good part of humanity’s process and progress, how we connect, how we relate to ourselves. Whether you’re writer or reader – and how often those roles intertwine in a sphere such as blogging! – writing is not just valid, but vital.

[An earlier form of this post was published at Zero at the Bone.]

9 thoughts on “This is what an activist looks like

  1. Excellent, excellent post.

    Also, this writing, this activism, right here? This is work.

    I hate it when people say to me “you sit on your ass and don’t work”.

    This is work. It is a labor of love, if nothing else.

    Thanks, Chally. Awesome. Original meaning.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I tried to talk about this issue in a Feministing community post awhile ago, but without a fraction of the confidence and eloquence with which you write.

    I think there’s also something patriarchal in the assumption that the only change worth making is world-altering, huge political breakthroughs – I can’t quite figure out how to put this, but it seems to fit into the whole Enlightenment paradigm / myth of progress thing, that the only change worth making is clearly measurable by objective criteria (as in, a certain bill passing), and privileging changing external conditions over changing yourself and the way you interact with the world… Not of course that such activism isn’t necessary, but that thinking of it as the ONLY legitimate form of activism has patriarchal and perhaps colonialist connotations as well as ableist and classist ones.

    The connections are still rather fuzzy in my mind, but I will be thinking about this.

  3. Thank you very much, Ouyang Dan.

    Hi Icy bear! I’m very flattered that you like this post and are commenting on it, and not just because of your lovely comment. When I was part way through writing the original version of this post back in August, I was having a look around the Feministing community page and happened upon your fantastic post, Activism and Ableism. It was so good to see someone else thinking along the same lines. If you end up writing that follow up post, would you please let me know?

  4. Hi Icy bear,

    I know I’ve given up entirely on affecting change on a national level, and have started focusing my efforts on small, local issues, such as the infamous “just one step” and speaking out at women-focused events on disability. I think it’s the same frustration you’re talking about.

  5. “I just don’t get it when people say that blogging isn’t real activism.”

    I think, part of this has to do with the attitude of the traditional media towards blogging in general.

    Also, when allies first read bloggers with disabilities, since our blogging looks like their blogging (on a superficial level, an odd kind of ‘passing,’?)

    When they realize we’re PWD’s they get uncomfortable and feel they were ‘fooled’ because, hey, we can actually write. As our labor of love, as you’ve so marvelously put it.

  6. “When they realize we’re PWD’s they get uncomfortable and feel they were ‘fooled’ because, hey, we can actually write.”

    This is so true. It reminds me of that New Yorker Cartoon, “On the Internet, No One Knows You’re A Dog.” It’s very interesting to see that many able bodied people assume that bloggers are like them, and that they are often unsettled when evidence to the contrary is presented.

  7. Well, you know I love this post. 😉

    To address your discussion questions a little, I definitely still have a hierarchy of “real” activism in my brain, with, I dunno, lobbying and talking with politicians being at the top, then rallies and marches and attending activist meetings, then activism-“lite” of letter writing down low, and bloggging being somewhere stuck in the muck on the bottom. Basically, everything “above” what I do is real, acceptable activism, and what I do isn’t.

    I recognize how messed up this is. And how insulting to others’ work, to which this scale doesn’t really count, because I’m not that far gone. It’s apparently only another way for me to make sure I know I fail to measure up.

    Like I said, messed up. :-/ I blame the kyriarchy, of course.
    .-= Arwyn´s last blog ..Why I say I’m OK =-.

  8. Hello! Chally, I will definitely let you know if I write a follow-up on the topic, and I will also definitely keep reading this thoroughly awesome blog. =) I’m very new to disability studies of any sort, so it’s quite eye-opening to me…

  9. Arwyn @8: Basically, everything “above” what I do is real, acceptable activism, and what I do isn’t.

    That way of measuring things—which I also share—is internalized disablism at its most pernicious. Being “disabled” means we’re broken, so by definition what we produce isn’t worthwhile.

    I deal with CFIDS, mental health issues, and a herd of miscellaneous impairments. I got sick in the first place by working too hard. After the first 18 months in bed I crawled out and hurled myself at community level organizing around transportation issues for a decade. While I did accomplish some good things, I also pushed myself into mental overload. Now I’m struggling to find that equilibrium at a new, lower, level.

    I’ve discovered that even weekly blogging is too much for me right now. I wish I believed in the power of prayer 🙁
    .-= Jesse the K´s last blog ..Delightful New Resources =-.

Comments are closed.