There are a lot of different ways to try to fix the ills of society. You can work for a nonprofit, run for office, petition and protest and Occupy. A lot of attention and a lot of value is placed on the more “active” forms of activism, such as Occupying, marching, or, well, anything that involves shouting. It’s loud. It’s flashy. It makes good copy and the footage looks great repeated ad infinitum on cable news. And, you know, sometimes that’s what’s needed. If, for example, cops are tear-gassing Occupy protesters, damn right somebody needs to be shouting about it. But loud, visible protests alone aren’t the only way to change the world. There’s room for a wide range of activism, and despite some shouty internet posters’ assertions to the contrary, there really isn’t a Great Tribunal Of Do-Gooders sitting in judgment of what is or isn’t “enough”. Riot girl musician Kathleen Hanna said it best:
You don’t want to start setting up another rule book, like: “This is how you’re a feminist. And this is the way you dress. And this is the way you act. And this is the way you protest.” It’s like, some people protest carrying signs. Some people protest by making activist radical music. Sometimes people try to just make it through a day and not kill themselves, and that’s their activism for right then, because that’s all they have…
I personally fall somewhere in between “making activist radical music” and “just make it through a day”, and I’ve spent a lot of time and mental energy figuring out why. When you spend time around people on the more radical end of the Make Change Happen spectrum, and you agree on the end goals of Equality For All but you find yourself rolling your eyes or getting twitchy about certain statements or behaviors, it’s really disconcerting. If you’re anything like me, you start asking yourself if you’re really Part Of The Problem because you disagree with others’ methods. But then, again if you’re anything at all like me, after a while you come to realize that “extreme” just doesn’t work for everyone, or for every situation. And you also realize that not everyone is driven by the same things.
A lot of activists are driven by anger. And why not? There’s a hell of a lot to be angry about. But for some people, maintaining a certain level of anger and dissatisfaction is necessary to spur them into action. It’s taken me a while to figure this out, but I am not one of those people. I’ve never been someone who needs to be fighting against something in order to act, and harboring ongoing anger does nothing but poison me from the inside. My motivation is hope. I have a vision of what a better world would be, and I look for ways to bring that about gradually, step by step — not by Destroying The Enemy but by finding common ground and gaining allies. Which is why I balk at confrontational types of activism. Why I can’t take a “fuck you, you’re wrong, so go away” approach to everyday life. I will never, ever be the type of person who says that if you are not doing A, B, C, X, Y and Z, you are not a True Believer/True Ally and I don’t want your help. I’ll never sit in judgment of celebrity activists like Lady Gaga and say that they’re Doing Things Wrong — I don’t give a good goddamn how much money you make or what sort of bizarre cold-cut-based couture you wear on red carpets; if your message inspires and uplifts people who really need it, I say good for you. I have finally, after several years, a lot of arguments and a lot of internal turmoil, accepted the fact that I am not an Activist.
Well, let’s back up a minute. I am an activist. But aside from a few months marching in circles and freezing my ass off at 5am on behalf of my future brothers and sisters in the Writers Guild of America, West [what up Pico Gate morning shift?], I’m not the very model of a modern revolutionary as many would see it. I’m a subversive. I work within the boundaries of mainstream culture and just… tweak things a little, whether it be language choices [I avoid pronouns in speech and writing unless speaking of a specific individual or single-gender group] or calling someone out for a joke that is Not Okay or giving notes on why using a certain gender/race-based cliché is Bad For The Story in whatever I’m writing coverage of. I don’t put up with any kind of bullshit and I don’t conform to anyone’s concept of femininity, age-appropriateness or anything else other than my own. Which is actually pretty disturbing to some people. She wears a blouse with a giant bow at the neck and trendy skinny pants and hot pink ballet flats; she’s not supposed to kick anybody’s ass. They almost never see it coming. Hell, sometimes they don’t see it until after it’s happened. And it’s those few minutes or hours of disconnect that let revolutionary ideas like don’t assume that people think like you just because they look like you or changing your attitude won’t turn you into a crunchy-granola-hairy-hippie or whatever other stereotype you fear creep into their brains. People take to new ideas more easily if they’ve put two and two together themselves; they feel ownership of the idea and the thought process, and are less likely to put up walls to block out what they might see as another person “attacking” them or shoving New Ideas [oh no, not new ideas!] down their throats.
Yes, sometimes it does take “attacking” or shoving New Ideas in people’s faces in order to effect change, but in most cases I find that that works better when dealing with institutions or the nightly news rather than one-on-one with individuals. And I’m happy to leave the [metaphorical, please] battering rams and [again, metaphorical, please] Molotov cocktails to others. My outwardly-traditional, inwardly-revolutionary approach isn’t a conscious choice or crafted image, it’s an organic outgrowth of who I am. And I’ve decided to stop feeling guilty or embarrassed or defensive because I’m more interested in coalition-building and gradual change than ideological purity. This is the way I live the change I want to see in the world, and just as I celebrate others’ contributions, I honor my own by refusing to buy into the idea that there’s One True Path to a better world. All these roads we’re on lead to the same place. I’ll see you there.