The Everyday Activist

In a musty, dusty corner of my brain, there resides a card catalog full of bold names and deeds. Those names and deeds are cross-reference with my own subjectivity and experiences. When I need to, I do a mental flip through until I get what I’m looking for.

When I hear a word like activist, my brain hums along. A loose definition forms, gossamer and ghostly, until it eventually takes shape and I am left with something concrete. A name, an example.

Activist: Rosa Parks. Dolores Huerta, Ida Wells, Cecile Richards, Audre Lorde, Tarana Burke. Flip, flip, flip. More names.

Nowhere in that catalog, not even at the very back, not even in the margins, does my own name appear.

****

So what makes an activist? Is there a set of criteria which must be met, a level of activist activity, akin to one of those strongman hammer do-dads at the town carnival, which must be reached before one can wear the label?

I’m sure I’m not alone in envisioning activism with a capital “A” and an exclamation point. An all-encompassing noun involving sweeping gestures and noble sacrifice. The word conjures ideas of single-minded crusades, 100% dedication, and bold acts.

How many times can you screw in a lightbulb emblazoned with the word ACTIVISM before you think of yourself as an activist?

****

The day after the US 2016 election I set up an ongoing monthly donation to Planned Parenthood, an organization of great importance to me. If anyone asked me what I wanted for Christmas I pointed them to the Center for Reproductive Rights. I ramped up my funding for political candidates whose ideas and ideals I could get behind.

Still, I didn’t consider myself an activist.

I marched in 2017 during the Women’s March, but also in 1992 in Washington, DC for reproductive rights. In the late 1980s I marched along the streets of NYC in black, high-top Adidas during Take Back the Night. I marched against the Gulf War, with young men I knew, men just tripping into adulthood, whose eyes reflected their fear that a war none of us wanted would reach out its greedy fingers and mark them irrevocably.

Still, I didn’t call myself an activist.

I write and publish essays about feminism. I regularly bore the pants off many men…and women… highlighting gender bias. I endure countless eye rolls as I patiently work my way through the nuances of the wage gap. I introduce new-fangled terms like the Motherhood Penalty. I use my social media platforms to speak out against harmful policies. And I have raged, oh, how I’ve raged, both privately and publicly, each time we take two steps back in this tango of equality.

Yet still, I don’t use the word activist to describe myself.

Perhaps, however, my definition is too narrow. Perhaps…just perhaps…I should be embracing my personal acts of activism. Activism with a lower-case “a” rather than a capital. With a quiet sentence ender rather than an exclamation point.

The everyday activism.

And perhaps…just perhaps…if we all did that, instead of assuming that what we do is too little, too late, or too insignificant, there would be enough excitement to warrant that exclamation point after all.

****

There are times when you face the mountain and the mountain seems un-scaleable. What is one person, one act, one small thing going to do? When one lone person takes their canvas tote to the supermarket, is it really going to help the Earth? Is it going to make a difference to climate change?

It’s difficult to fit you and your small, canvas tote into the bigger picture.

Is my ten dollars a month going to make a difference to Planned Parenthood? My fifty dollars a year is, after all, merely a drip in the coffers of the ACLU. My body, one of thousands, will not be missed if I don’t march. My voice, one among thousands, will not subtract from the din.

But if we’re all kicking the can down the road to others because we think we can’t make a difference, if we’re putting out a small spark because we’re not comfortable carrying a torch, does that torch, regardless of who is carrying it, ever stand a chance at staying lit?

Imagine if a young Ruby Bridges, walking to school under the protection of federal marshals to desegregate a Louisiana classroom felt one lone girl wasn’t enough. Imagine if Shannon Watts thought one mother crusading to change the way we look at gun laws thought one mother wasn’t enough. Imagine if Dolores Huerta had assumed that one woman alone could not make a dent in the fight for farm workers.

What would we be left with?

****

There are hundreds of ways to help force change in the places we believe need change. We can donate money or fundraise to help others do so. We can give our time, our talents. We can add our bodies. We can show up. We can call out.

At the end of the day, I am but one voice, a whisper in a sea of noise. But if  I add my voice, my whisper to the lone whispers of others, if we all do that, it becomes a scream too loud to ignore. And so I continue. Not because I expect to change the world all by myself, but because if there are a hundred other “me”s out there, a thousand, half a million, think of the possibilities.

We are all activists, intentional or not, when we stand up for change we believe in. When you carry the tote bag, when you call out sexism, when you join a march, when you donate to a cause. They are acts of everyday activism.

The exclamation point doesn’t need to be there. The capital “A” doesn’t need to be there. A thousand small, everyday acts become bold when they are taken together.

Find the cause or causes you are passionate about, find the things you want to change. And fight for them. Fight for them a little, fight for them a lot. Fight for them in ways large and small, but don’t ever think those acts, however everyday they seem, aren’t making a difference.

You have a voice. And if you use your voice for change? Well then my friend, you are an activist.

And don’t let anyone, least of all yourself, tell you differently.

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18 thoughts on “The Everyday Activist

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  1. Thank you for these thoughts. My mind has wandered along the same lines in the last year, as I’ve struggled with everything that’s happened (when will we come up with an adequate word that describes the ugly, devastating evil we’re dealing with world-wide?!). I,, too have marched and donated and written…and often despair over making no difference. I try to remember the “sphere of influence” concept – that we do have the responsibility and power to make a difference to the people and needs that we come into contact with, and I try to believe that’s enough. Hearing something similar from someone I respect makes it easier to believe.

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    1. Yes to all of that. This was a mash-up of two separate ideas I’ve been thinking about, one is the notion of accidentally ‘falling’ into activism, the other this idea that the biggest changes happen on the micro level. I’ve been calling them micro-progressions (like the antithesis of micro-aggressions), and I still have more thinking to do about it! But for now, I shall keep doing what I am doing, keep using my voice and my keyboard, and maybe, before too long, we can find a name for what happened in the PAST rather than currently. Be well. D

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow. I too hesitate to think of myself as an activist when I write to Congress or take the time to educate myself and others about things for which I am passionate. This was a great encouragement and affirmation to me today. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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    1. I feel the same way all the time. What am I doing? Or, “it hardly matters in the big scheme of life”. But I always come back to the idea of the butterfly effect. You never know when there will be enough of those small movements to cause a tidal wave.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You inspired a poem:

    *****

    In the Grassroots Begin

    I ask now: What is activism’s
    Most important goal?
    Be it perhaps to liberate
    Each person to be whole

    In any way that person feel
    The need their whole to be
    Manifest individ’ually
    Truly completely free?

    I think it is.

    The question, then,
    Is whether I might qualify
    The title for, or whether by
    Disability it belie

    For I am hardly strong enough
    To protests and to marches go
    It would add so severely
    To the pain that I already know

    Nor may I close peruse the news
    And still expect to be
    Appropriately focused
    As poets are, eternally

    I can’t make an appointment
    And dependably be there
    When and as committed
    For I might not be anywhere

    Laboring under such fatigue
    As most folk know not e’en to dread
    Might be confined that afternoon
    To my perspiring bed

    I guess I should just give it up
    This notion that I also be
    Any kind of partner In
    Activism’s activity

    Except, perhaps…

    … those times when I
    Am out on errands run
    And with folks on the bus with me
    Get up a little fun

    You meet all kinds there, dark and light
    Laborers, gangstas, young and old
    The helpless, th’upwardly mobile
    Inexpensive briefcase hold

    Homeless huddling with their carts
    Ex cons in a daze
    Folks from every different place
    Walking a hundred different ways

    Now, if I clown around with one
    Or maybe two or three
    Intending to show each soul how
    Acceptable it be
    In my eyes and the eyes of God
    Might that qualify me?

    If I make sure my lips and eyes
    Gently smiling be
    When I walk past those many
    Who’re despised by our society
    The brown skinned and dimin’uative
    Kids trying to be free

    The service counter personnel
    And cleaning faculty
    The aged, halt and those poor souls
    Skittering furtively

    Convinced that never in this life
    They will forgiven feel
    For whatever it is they did
    Which their self hatred seal

    If I look straight into the eyes
    Of every single one of these
    Would by so doing I succeed
    Activism’s tail to seize?

    If when I do the single thing
    I am still qualified to do
    That’s sit up when the pain recedes
    And write these words to you

    I polish every single one
    For maximum impact
    Grounding any illusion filled
    Reader in unsullied fact

    Speaking for those invisible
    Scared into hiding, dispossessed
    Will’t leave me of the title
    Of an activist possessed?

    Well —

    Now that I have thoroughly
    Investigated the
    Question that we started with
    I think I start to see

    Something that I’ve been noticing
    Activist friends about:
    The best ones do not really care
    If anybody finds them out

    They work behind the scenery
    They march one in a crowd
    They exercise each little bit
    Of freedom they’re allowed

    If called, they’ll get up in the front
    And from all watchers take the heat
    But it’s ordinary people
    Like the ones right down your street

    Just doing what each one can do
    Each ordinary moment in
    Will see organic uprising
    In our grassroots begin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love it!

      And I’m incredibly flattered. I’m not sure I’ve ever inspired a poem before :-). At least not an original one.

      Thank you for sharing it with me and here. Would you mind if I shared it on the blog’s Facebook page?

      D

      Like

  4. Yes!! If only we all understood this! Raising your children to be feminists is activism. Being intentionally kind to people you disagree with is activism. Loving in a hateful world is activism. There are so many wonderful ways to be activists. And we should celebrate them all. We all work with what we have, and we should be proud of that.

    Like

    1. Well said, Shana. Raising feminist boys is probably one of the most radical acts of my life. And one I think I was put on this Earth to do. Also, great point about being intentionally kind to people you disagree with. That’s tough–but important. And it is absolutely a form of activism–because it helps t bridge those gaps that are stopping true change.

      Like

  5. Perfectly to the point, as usual!

    Sometimes it feels like a hamster wheel – am I even getting anywhere? Then you see a little push, a little movement … and it’s encouraging, Enter the pushback. Gnarf…

    There are times when I have that feeling in animal rescue. You volunteer, you donate, you try to educate people, but it just never stops. Abused horses, neglected dogs, discarded cats. For every one you manage to help, ten more wait in the wings.
    It makes you wonder if you make any difference at all. But then you remember – I made a difference for that dog. That horse. That cat.
    It’s something.
    For the dog, it’s everything.

    Like

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D.E. Haggerty

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