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.
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.
And don’t let anyone, least of all yourself, tell you differently.
It goes something like this: A candidate comes forward. In my dream it’s meaningless if they are man, woman, donkey or elephant. There is no need for a stage or podium, mics or teleprompters. There is no need for a moderator or live twitter feed. They are there to deliver a message. It’s not a message of hope or promise.
It’s a message of choice.
It starts something like this:
“No one person or party is ever going to please everyone. No one platform is going to embody the ideals and goals of everyone. We are too vast. Too diverse. Too impassioned. There will always be debate. There will always be dissension. There should be discussion and disagreement. But ideally there is compromise. There is give, and there is take, and by chipping away at the differences, we often find the bedrock of similarity. But….”
…and this is where it goes from dream to impossible dream…
“We are broken. No, we’re not broken. We are past the need for casts and x-rays, past the need for painkillers and bandages. We are bleeding out, on the way to mortally wounded. Don’t be fooled. This will not be a quick and painless death; a good death. No, this death will be long and lingering: a painful death during which we watch a history’s lifeblood slowly pool around us. It will be long enough to lament. Long enough to contemplate all the chances we had, all the chances we wasted. We will limp and twitch and stumble to the end. Until we are a mere footnote. A lesson for someone else.
And it will be no one’s fault but our own.
Because hear this, and hear it well:
God is not the problem, but God is not the answer either.
America has a race problem. No, problem is not the right word. America has institutionalized policies of racism so deep-rooted they’ve become impossible to detach from the American Dream. Much like the fortunes of the Unites States were built on the backs of slaves, the current embodiment of the American Dream requires a scapegoat. In order to ascend, you need something to lift you up. And yet instead of that something being education and infrastructure, it’s yet again the backs of the poor, the disenfranchised, and minorities.
Women’s bodies do not need to be regulated by religion or backdoor legislation. Women’s sexuality is not something to be brought to heel.
Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are not harvesting the brains of babies for sale on the black market. If you are against the legal transfer of stem cells and fetal tissue, then you should also deny access to medical care and technologies which have come as a result of research from the same.
Abortion is not going to go away. To reduce the number of abortions you must implement more intensive sex education, easy access to and information about birth control, family planning, and yes, free and easy access to medical care. Unless you are ready to fund and fight for those things, then shut up about it.
School shootings are not going to stop. Mall shootings and church shootings and mosque shootings and movie theatre shootings are NOT going to stop. There will only be more bullets, more bodies. There are two choices and only two.
Gun control and legislation. Or….
Sit back and let it continue to happen.
There are always going to be people who need help. People who make poor choices, people who didn’t have the choice to make in the first place. There are always going to be those who take advantage of loopholes. And loopholes come in all shapes and sizes. Is the welfare scammer worse than the corporation who avoids taxes? Shall we condemn one and reward the other for cleverness? What kind of nation refuses to help those in need, those whose choices have been thwarted from the beginning, those who are looking for a better life. Is that who we want to be?
Right now America is keeping itself alive on a steady diet of hypocrisy.
You can’t proclaim yourself a believer in life if you don’t believe in curbing deaths. You can’t believe in the sanctity of life in the first three divisions of cells and not demand that something be done to protect the lives of those who are living and breathing. Unless you are willing to protect all lives—from guns, from violence, from oppression and racism, from diseases that can be prevented–then how dare you cloak yourself in the hypocritical banner of Pro-Life and wash your hands of it all.
You can’t believe in truth if you pick and choose those truths or if you simply make them up.
You can’t believe in freedom if you are denying it to others.
I have a dream that person exists–I’m clinging to it with ragged nails.
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