Where are the Activists?
Activists are everywhere!
Did someone say fiction? I LOVE fiction! I especially enjoy all the movies, novels and TV programs about everyday activists organizing for justice and creating the world we want to see.
And I’m a big fan of those great soaps, rom-coms, reality shows and series about indigenous people, workers, women and so on, having such inspiring adventures in fascinating settings like strikes, encampments, street protests…
Purrsonally, I prefur the epic dramas of people fighting tooth and claw against bullying, repression and violence in the belly of the Beast!
Well, I adore all the adventure stories, family movies, thrillers, and so on, about movements around the world for equality and liberation, saving the environment, peaceful international cooperation…
That’s right! All those kinds of movies, TV shows and novels are such a great way for everyone to understand activists!
Excuse me, are you all living on a different planet?
The truth is, in most novels, movies, and TV programs, activists aren’t there at all.
And when activists do appear, they’re often stereotyped–sometimes positively, like saints, often super negatively–angry, violent, hypocritical, and so on.
What can be done??
What's the Activist Community?
The activist community exists at many levels, covering a wide variety of profound, complex connections among folks dedicated to social change. Understanding the nature of these connections, and how to build, safeguard, and deepen them, is a key aspect of understanding activism.
The community is the dynamic, interrelated, ever-evolving constellation of people who share the basic overall aspiration to create a just society and–this is key–who actively participate in doing so, in connection with others.
Of course, “activist community” as such is an abstraction, as are terms like “women,” “athletes,” or “trees.” We know there is no such thing as a generic athlete or tree, yet the categories are useful thought tools, as long as we use them carefully–like all tools should be used!
POA aspires to understand more about these thought tools and use them to understand activist experience and culture. We will be talking more about them in further posts.
Activists fight the beast every day while living in its belly.
And carve out liberated zones to begin creating the new world now.
The worldwide community of activists are the core folks without whom movements do not happen. For any social movement that appears to surge out of nowhere, in reality at least a few activists are at its heart, and most likely have been thinking, working and fighting for a long time to make it happen.
Are people who fight for White Power or against immigrants part of the Activist Community?
If your fight for your particular people or issue entails opposing justice for others; if you feel that your people’s interests depend on harming or suppressing other people and groups; or if you believe that you and yours are better or more valuable than other folks, then …
Then you're working for me!
BUT…if you believe in equal justice and human rights, and feel that injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere, and if your life includes action to uphold these values anywhere in the world, you’re part of this global community of social justice activists.
So activists are all pure–no mixed motives or prejudices?
Unfortunately not! We need to protect ourselves from all the ways the Beast colonizes our minds, making us sabotage ourselves and turn on each other.
Activists are only human, poor things.
What Activists Do
And What's Activist Culture?
How people in the activist community relate to one another and to the rest of the world, how they represent their reality to themselves and others, and how they think and act together are basic aspects of activist culture.
True, activists have all kinds of identities and belong to many cultures, constituencies, places and identities. We have all kinds of (often conflicting) schools of thought, styles, strategies, plans, tools and methodologies. What is unique about activists and activist culture is that its very purpose is to transform the dominant power structure founded on profit over people, and the culture that supports it, in pursuit of universal justice, peace and planetary survival.
Many cultures run afoul of the dominant culture and power structure at particular times and in particular places, but ours is by definition in conflict with the status quo. Activist culture is founded in the aspiration to transform society, even though this often looks like “merely” trying to uphold society’s current stated tenets, such as equal opportunity, voting rights, contract rights, etc. While specific activist actions, organizations and movements generally focus on specific areas, populations and issues, our overriding principle is that justice must be universal.
The fact that people encounter such resistance to their attempts to uphold existing rights is what pushes some people into activism, and what alerts them, or confirms their suspicions, that the system itself is what does not allow for the justice it purports to embody (let alone greater levels of justice). This is what leads people from their particular experience to engaging with the larger question of systemic change.
Activists work for all kinds of improvements in the current status quo, and want things to go as well as they can for as many folks as possible. It is often these efforts, and the great struggles and risks activists face in this good work, that we come to understand the fundamentally unfair way society is organized, and that it must be transformed fundamentally to achieve things that nearly everyone considers desirable in a society: fairness, cooperation and compassion without favorites or exceptions.
Activists are connected in a global community, a unique culture, comprised of folks who have taken this stance in the world, with all its joys and challenges, shared experience and purpose, and common internal contradictions and tensions.
Wildly diverse though it is, the worldwide activist community shares behaviors, priorities, beliefs, attitudes, joys, rituals, humor, history, principles, ideologies, role models, vocabulary, and more. All this makes us a distinct culture.
Our culture is shaped by the inescapable tension of living life in the belly of the Beast we are working to transform. This does not mean that others do not oppose injustice; in fact, most people do. The difference is that the very essence of our culture is the collective goal and work of transforming the status quo, putting us as a community in basic basic contradiction with the way things are.
Why Care about Our Culture?
What does this basic contradiction between the activist community and the unjust social structure in which we function mean for our movements and our lives? How does it shape us, our experience and our work? And why spend time “navel gazing” at our own community when we have so much urgent work to do in the world?
Well…it is not exaggerating to say that the future of our world depends on activist work. Whether we acknowledge or are even conscious of it, we’re all counting on activists to organize, inspire, push, lead, coax, harangue, and hustle enough of the rest of us into action to stop annihilation by nuclear, climate, economic and other catastrophes. Centuries of human history indicate that we are unlikely to evolve or bumble by accident into a society of equality and sanity in our dealings with one another and with our environment. We need to actively make this happen, which means activists mobilizing people to stand up to the Beast and successfully vanquish it.
The Beast knows this, and will stop at nothing to keep it from happening. Its best chance, it knows, is to target activists. Even when repression is random and rampant, it is always most fierce and focused on activists.
At the same time activists battle the Beast, we are building the new world now, carving out liberated zones in the midst of movements to experiment with more fair and sensible ways of doing things, in bits and pieces supplanting the old and bad with more creative possibilities. The Beast hates these experiments and regularly swoops in to crush them.
The more collective consciousness activists develop and share about the nature of our culture, community, experience and specific challenges we face as activists, the better we can protect, defend, love and support each other, broaden our reach, fight our adversaries, overcome our divisions, and strengthen ourselves to wage this indispensable fight.
Words: Juliana Barnet
Artwork: Rini Templeton, Sophie Barnet-Higgins, Juliana Barnet