Why should any of us keep quiet in a world that seems to celebrate and support the voice of anyone willing to take a stand, whether they deserve it or not? Why shouldn’t I be just another voice in the crowd, clamouring for rights to be upheld, for protections for hate groups to be repealed, for politicians to do their actual jobs?
That’s a lot of questions to start an article with, so hopefully I’ll answer a few here. Strap in, because I rarely write "only a few words"...
Activism- What is it?
Also a good start would be to check out the Wikipedia entry about activism, to get a general overview of its history and the various forms that it does and can take today.activism - NOUN
The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.
‘growing activism on the abortion issue’ - Oxford Dictionary
To me, to be an activist doesn’t necessarily mean packing up your life and moving into a tent city to protest Wall Street, or chaining yourself to a tree in front of a bulldozer. These days, there are much more "convenient” ways that you can take part in activism - and don’t worry about the haters that call online activity "slacktivism” or "arm chair activism”, I’ll deal with them later.
Activism is, to me, taking a heartfelt interest in a cause and raising your voice with the crowd to speak out against injustice, oppression, violence and hatred, and myriad other societal effects of clashing opinions / classes / races, etc. It’s wanting to see people be treated fairly, to live life to their best potential without having other more privileged people decide for them what they can or cannot do.
Looking at the world today and how it has gotten simultaneously bigger and smaller with the advent of the Internet, and later social media, there are endless lists of causes and campaigns and issues that you could champion/fight for:
- Women’s rights (VERY broad category;)
- Abortion and Pro-Choice
- Closing the wage gap
- Rape, Sexual Assault, and Domestic Violence
- Trans rights
- Animal welfare
- Children’s welfare
To get biblical, despite my being pagan, activism is about standing up for the downtrodden, and raising them and their voices up over your own; to stand together in the face of adversity and weather whatever storms may come.
It’s incredibly daunting, and there’s no reward, which is bloody-well how it should be. Activism should be undertaken for sole-purpose of defending others, not for recognition and a pat on the back.
What does activism look like today?
There are so very many examples of amazing works of activism from around the world each year, it’s almost impossible to write about one without inadvertently leaving others behind.
For the sake of transparency, I’d like to state that I am very new to being actively involved in activist activities, (say that three times fast!); I’ve signed and assisted petitions in the past, but now I am stepping out. Hell, I’m writing this article, and that’s a start, right?
Let’s look at some examples of activism, notable activists from the past few years, and what effect it has had on the world.
Malala Yousafzai is known around the world as a champion on the rights of women and girls, especially in her home country of Pakistan.
Her human rights activism started quite early, which stands to reason being the daughter of Ziauddin Yousafzai, a noted scholar from Pakistan whom encouraged her actions, so long as she was careful. Yet despite his warnings, Malala’s writings and appearances increased in intensity and notoriety, and in 2012 she was targeted by the Taliban for directly opposing their stance on banning girls’ education.
She and two other girls were shot at point-blank range, Malala taking a bullet to the skull and remaining unconscious until she awoke in hospital in England after trauma surgery was performed to save her.
She became even more determined to fight for the ostracised women and girls around the world whom wouldn’t have the opportunity to stand up for themselves. Her work was recognised around the world with awe, and in 2014 became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate ever.
She has written several books on her life and the topics she is most passionate about, has continued to talk and write about womens’ right to education, and has been interviewed countless times. Most recently, she sat down with David Letterman for his Netflix series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction - (Australian link - Search Google or your local Netflix service for the episode.)
One of the faces that comes to mind for many people, at least in Australia, when they heard the word ‘feminist’, is that of Clementine Ford.
Author, broadcaster, and public speaker, Clem has established herself as a go-to name in the ongoing shit fight that is women’s rights. Her often extreme positions and opinions have given her supporters and opponents alike, which is good because it gets people talking about the issues that need highlighting.
Clem is very vocal about the myriad aspects of feminine fear, hatred, and oppression that goes on every day, writing often from a personal perspective and with the energy and conviction of someone that simply won’t be fucked with.
Her strength in the face of the "criticism" she receives, from men and women both, lies in her absolutely unswerving dedication to fighting for women, for equality, and against men being the general fucking arseholes so many simply are.
In 2015 on White Ribbon Day she released some of the vile sexist and abusive messages she’d received online, along with the names of those whom delivered such hate. She received a widespread and divided response, with many seeing this as a bold and brilliant move against the men and boys who think they can get away with whatever they want online, while others decried her "breach of their privacy”.
One man lost his job, and three teenage boys were suspended from an Adelaide school because of the stuff they sent to her. Sadly even this wasn’t enough to deter anyone it seems, and we’ve since seen a ridiculous rise in this sort of cowardice since.
Despite the constant abuse and threats that Clementine, and it would seem all women receive at some point online, she has pressed ahead unabashed and uncowed, taking her strength and helping fight for women and girls, forever seeking the equality that so many pay lip service to.
One of the most recognisable faces from the February 2018 school shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in which 17 people died, would be Emma González.
A survivor of the massacre, she became practically a global household name for the fight that she and her fellow students have taken to the politicians and adults of America that sit clinging to their "God-given right to own guns"; to the NRA that has brainwashed multiple generations and has Congress sitting in its pocket.
She is the perfect example of an activist that won’t quit. Her Twitter account is a wonder to behold, daily. She has called out politicians, called out national news anchors and celebrities, even called out the President directly, accusing them all of having more love for guns than they do for the children whose lives said guns are taking away so frequently.
She, along with the likes of David Hogg - @DavidHog111, have copped abuse from the right wing of America, including prominent members of the NRA, the media, politicians, and just general adult citizens - adults, attacking the teen survivors of a school shooting for having the gall to #MarchForOurLives and beg #NeverAgain.
Emma on the left in the original photo, shown tearing up a shooting target sheet. On the right, a heavily photoshopped and white-washed image of Emma put forth by the NRA, shown tearing up a copy of the Declaration of Independence - just one of the many vile and juvenile attacks made on the kid survivors of the shooting.
The call to arms for people to stand up and demand change to the laws and processes has been an ongoing battle where nothing ever happens besides the Left and Right butting heads, refusing to come to any sort of agreement.
One of the biggest lies the "Defenders of the 2nd Amendment" have been pushing is that these ‘irrational/emotional children’ are fighting to have the 2nd repealed - which it utter bullshit and is just fear mongering designed to get the support of gun-nuts whom don’t look beyond the surface of any information they’re presented with.
To see what those Marching For Their Lives, are really campaigning for, look here: How We Save Lives
Activism is intensely personal
Inevitably when getting involved with activism, you’re going to clash with people who are arguing a differing viewpoint and defending their views with passion, and sometimes personal attacks on their opposition.
This is because activism typically arises within a person from an intensely emotional experience or desire to protect others, and so the engagements are usually very emotion-driven.
Try not to take things to heart, and try not to respond in kind. The hardest thing to deal with is wading through the vitriol and hate and irrational arguments and, of course, opportunistic trolls that get their jollies from stirring up drama; but it is worth it.
I recently engaged in debate with someone on Twitter that was crying foul because of a newly launched local campaign aimed at raising awareness of and standing up to domestic violence against women. (Info and video through the link.)
He was sticking to his perspective that "domestic violence isn’t a gendered issue" and that having a campaign like this only serves to imbalance discussion because it is ignoring female-on-male domestic violence, and doesn’t even take into account domestic violence within LGBTQIA+ relationships.
Presenting the case that violence against women, specifically perpetrated by men, vastly outnumbers other forms of abuse in almost all categories, I also explained that his question is so closely related to the "What about International Men’s Day?" bullshit that women cop every year, (Monday 19th November for those wondering, though it barely matters since it’s never mentioned except in March as a knee-jerk response to International Women’s Day...), and that it is taking away from the very real need to have a focused, specific discussion about the global pandemic that is violence against women.
He might not have ended up agreeing with me, but he did eventually see my point and did further reading into the statistics and reasonings behind why singular campaigns like this exist. I’m sure he’ll still call for "equality in campaigns”, despite all the time I and others spent trying to explain it, but at least he’s closer to understanding than he was.
And fuck me, that was a civil debate! Too often it is a shit fight just trying to get facts out there amongst the tide of opinion and misogyny. And trolling...ugh
So why get involved?
Because, as I said at the start of this post: I can’t ignore the voice anymore.
I’ve been told all my life that I’m "too opinionated", that I’m arrogant because of how I argue my position (probably because I often argue with facts...), that I should be quiet and stop trying to "make a scene".
This from people whom themselves would never go out of their way to cause ripples in their family or work or social lives, who try to just keep everything as calm as possible.
To me, that’s fear. That’s the fear of being considered ‘other’ by their friends or family or coworkers. To this I ask, When did being weird/other become a bad thing??
Ask my friends, or especially my step-father, and they’ll tell you enthusiastically that I’ve always been a weird person - and I take pride in that. This is probably why I’m always so comfortable talking about things people tend to steer clear from, doing weird and stupid things that could probably hurt me all for the laughs of my friends...
Activism for me has always been on my radar. I’m an empathetic person, and always have been. I might not cry when someone in my life dies, but show me even the slightest sad thing about any animal and I’ll tear up like a squeezed sponge.
That isn’t to say I’m cold and not compassionate to human plight, I just have a very different response to humanity. Mostly it’s anger, because we perpetrate some of the most unconscionable assaults on each other and our world.
My desire to help others springs from this anger, and this anger springs from a deeply personal history wherein I’ve lived through some pretty fucked up experiences.
For too long I laid dormant, just thinking about or sharing on Facebook those things I thought others should know about. Now? I’m going to seek out things I’m passionate about, write about them, talk about them with friends. I’m going to be "that friend” whom always seems to have something to say about things that actually matter in the grand scheme of things.
This is, I hope, the first of many such lengthy expositions and explorations of my thoughts and feelings on such things. Hopefully future posts will be a little bit more structured, with purpose beyond just throwing my thoughts into the void.
For those who would like to look further into what sort of thing constitutes activism, especially activity that isn’t in the western world, check out this list by Amnesty International - 12 Inspiring Human Rights Activists To Follow In 2018
For something closer to home for all of us, no matter where you live, yesterday (March 31st) was Transgender Day of Visibility - a day wherein trans and other non-binary, non-gender conforming folk celebrate their identities and ...bring awareness to the issues they face in society.*
* Quote taken from my friend Sera’s blog, That Girl Sera
Thanks for reading
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and engaging with you in the comments or on social media.