Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Spark of Wisdom: What is the RIGHT form of activism?

image This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

I have been looking at various brouhahas about activism lately, especially in the LGBT community. In particular, I've been looking at a lot of arguments.

And part of me is happy about that, I have to make that clear now. One of the things I love love love love about LGBT activism and the LGBT community is there is never any idea that we should all be reading off one page. There are few, if any, grand leaders of the movement and we don't put many people on pedestals. And when you gather us together you either have the best party ever or the biggest argument ever. Maybe even both. And I like that, I like that we're not all reading off the same page, I like that there's a variety of opinions and I like that individuality is still a mainstay of us.

But, I digress - on activism itself. I am seeing a lot of arguing as to what is good activism and what isn't. What people should be doing. What people aren't doing. Why X form of activism is better than Y. And here I have to add my own disagreement.

I don't think any FORM of activism is wrong.

I think screaming in fury, waving angry signs and jumping up and down is great activism - it shows you're passionate, it shows that you are angry, it shows that there is something real and tangible and awful to fix.

I think civil disobedience, chaining yourself to fences, holding sit ins, are all powerful activism. It's brave, it's courageous, it shows how determined people are to see this change, again it shows how important it is. It draws attention, it creates visibility, it highlights injustice.

I think spreading the stories of pain is effective activism. Showing everyone the real people who are hurt by discrimination and hatred, remembering the names of the fallen, reporting the hate incidents, putting faces to the numbers and making it clear that the problem is still there are vital to prevent them being dismissed.

I think objectively listing discriminatory laws and policies, of compiling statistics of people fired, of lives lost, of the large scale numbers the problem brings in a calm, clinical manner is effective activism. It presents the issues and the scale of them in an accessible format.

I think marching and demonstrating are a great form of activism. It shows energy, it shows numbers, it shows dedication. It connects you to more people in your cause and increases morale and energy - as well as drawing attention

I think pride parades are a great form of activism. It helps the isolated connect, reinforces the messages of exposure and attention. It sticks two fingers up at the closet and asserts loudly and proudly that we exist and have every right to do so. That we're proud to do so.

I think blogging is effective activism. It spreads the word quickly, to a huge audience and establishes relationships between activists across the globe. It draws attention to stories missed by the mainstream press, it engages people, it brings new insight and opinions to people who were unaware or didn't think on those terms.

I think tweeting is effective activism. I think a tweet can span the world in an instant and have a thousand furious people informed, engaged and responding. From Southwest Airlines to Jan Moir, we have seen the power of social networking.

I think mass mailing elected representatives is effective, especially if each letter is personalised. Ultimately, even the most corrupt and bought politician is elected and has to at least give a nod to his constituents. If enough weigh in on an issue, then that issue becomes important. You may even find one that cares *ducks flying pig*

I even think professional activist and lobbyist organisations - that come under a lot of criticism - are effective activism. I think they establish relationships with legislators, they become groups that they have to acknowledge, even if they ignore them. They become groups that politicians even have to court and make at least some gestures towards (hollow as they may be at times), they have an in.

I think all of this activism is effective, powerful and to be encouraged. I don't think any of them is doing activism wrong. But I think it's possible to do them wrong.

I think that the shouting in anger can often devolve into incoherent rage.

I think meticulously enumerating the facts can seem emotionless and unimportant, ivory tower philosophy rather than real lives and real people.

I think sharing stories of the tragedies can become maudlin and unproductive - especially if we focus on the bad without any considerations for how to make them better or move forwards.

I think Pride Parades can become heavily commercialised and become more about the show and the display than about the message and the community.

I think the professional lobbyists become more concerned with the august circles they move in, their profiles, their profits and the celebrities they get to rub shoulders with rather than the cause itself. I also think it's very easy for these high profile lobbyists to lose connection with both the cause and the people they're fighting for.

Yes, they can be done wrong - gods yes they can be done wrong. And we certainly need to speak up when it is. In fact, I think we have been a lot less critical of the lobbyists than they deserve (to pick one set of failings among many) -  but that doesn't mean that that form of activism is wrong. And that we have to be careful with. There is no one true way - all are effective within their own sphere. But again and again I am seeing people say "we need this activism, not that kind" or that "X is ineffective" or deriding, say, internet activists for their online work, or mocking the civil disobedient for media hounding or sniping at the angry for "putting people off."

I would rather have a 100 voices, than just one voice echoed 100 times. But at the same time, I don't think it's very useful for those 100 voices to spend all their time bickering with each other about how the others talk. We should certainly criticise when there is a problem, when someone is failing badly and not even remotely helping (and, again, I think one of the main problems is that that HASN'T been happening) - or even hindering the way forwards. But there's a difference between criticising them for doing it wrong - and criticising them for not doing it your way.