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We've got activism all wrong. Here's how to get it right

Jan. 31, 2018
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There were no tears lost saying goodbye to 2017. The endless horrors that resulted from DT’s first year in office led me to slightly orgasm the second the clock struck midnight on January 31st, thereby ending the wretched year forever. However there was one defining positive to 2017 that was consistent throughout the entire year: the activism. In fact, the internet is calling 2017 “the year of protests”. That’s because—from the literal day that fuckwad took office—people took to the streets to voice their opposition and resistance to everything he stood for. I mean, sure, it took the election of a sexist, racist, ableist, xenophobic, pathologically-lying sociopath for people to actually wake up to the rampant violation of human rights and social injustices occurring every day in our country, but at least they finally did wake up. And—surprise, surprise!—they actually stayed awake.

No matter what else happened in 2017, these occurrences were pretty incredible to behold. But as we move into 2018, I can’t help but wonder: can we keep it up? Can we stay awake? We are only a year into DT’s presidency, and the general tone that people are exhibiting towards the unyielding political climate has changed from one of fierce outrage and passion to apathetic depression as our immunity to such atrocities has built up over the past 12 months. And can you blame them? No matter how much effort is put into resisting or organizing, the administration from Hell always seems to find new ways to attack basic human rights every single day. It’s exhausting, and it makes a homie want to say “fuck it” and bury their head under the covers until this presidency is up… or until we all go up in a mushroom cloud as a result of DT’s nuclear pissing contest, whichever comes first. 

But as much as I want to remain in a fetal position with a trough of French fries by my side, I know I cannot. I know I cannot simply give up and wait by the sidelines for these next three years to be over. The amount of damage this administration could do in that amount of time could mean a hellscape that more closely resembles a Ray Bradbury or Margaret Atwood novel than reality as we know it. With the signs already pointing in that direction, the time to do something about it would be now, not when my ass is long since dead because I’ve been disposed of for being a woman who can’t have children. And even if I wasn’t worried about such a future occurring, I still have the responsibility to take action. We all do: we are all members of the human species and residents of this planet. And when individuals or groups of individuals are trying to take away the rights of other humans and do irreparable damage to the planet, we have a responsibility to do something about it. We simply need to change how we do so. We need to change how we think about activism—and how we perform it in general.

Currently, when people think of activism, they think of protests and marches and grand organizational feats. Of course, those are important aspects of activism, but they are really just a small piece of the pie. The ideology of activism only requires that a change be made to the cultural, societal, or political status quo. Nowhere in that definition does it cite how that change needs to be made, or how big that change needs to be. This being the case, the number of ways that people can contribute to resisting or making a change is almost limitless. I have thought about how this can benefit people with disabilities, since protests and marches are really only accessible for able-bodied people. But recently I have been thinking more and more about how this definition doesn’t just allow for more people to make a change and for more options of change—it also allows for more lasting change to be made.

I started considering the benefits of activism that is done on a smaller scale, i.e. small acts of resistance. At first I thought these actions would not be as impactful as large acts of change, but then I realized these actions are actually more impactful, even if the results are not immediately apparent. Think of Offred in the screen-adapted The Handmaid’s Tale, when she spits out the macaron given to her by Serena Joy. The act was not seen or acknowledged by anyone but herself, but that does not make it any less of an act of resistance. Her purposeful refusal to eat the cookie symbolized her rejection of being oppressed, degraded, and complacent of the world in which she now lives. Although the impact of this action was not immediate, it was debatably the most significant. Her later acts of resistance were larger, more obvious, and performed in front of others, but they all took place as a result of her spitting out that cookie. It was that moment that reminded her of who she was and empowered her to keep resisting. 

I believe these types of actions could be the key. I believe these kinds of actions are how great change is made. It starts with everyday people doing small acts of resistance. Maybe they buy coffee for the person behind them in line at a cafe. Maybe they speak up when their friend says something misogynistic. Maybe they put a bucket in their shower to save water. Maybe they kneel during the National Anthem. Although these acts may seem small and insignificant at the time, they are anything but. They give people the chance to acclimate to activism. 

Resisting the status quo and taking a stand are scary, unpredictable things. But in small increments of resistance, people are given the chance to build up courage and become comfortable with these concepts. Most activists don’t start off by getting arrested during a protest rally. They get started because they found something they were passionate about and wanted to do something about it. 

If you want the world to be a kinder and more compassionate place, you don’t start by founding your own nonprofit organization; maybe you just start by buying coffee for the person behind you. If one day you hope to lead millions of women in a march for their empowerment, but don’t know how to start, maybe just speaking up against everyday sexism will help you figure out where to go from there. If your desire to build wells in developing countries is unrealistic for the time being, maybe conserving water in your own home is enough to keep your passion alive until you can realize that dream. If you want the world to acknowledge the rampant systemic racism that exists in your country, maybe you start by getting them to acknowledge your pain as an individual by refusing to stand during that country’s National Anthem. It is through small actions like these that passion and resistance grow and grow until enough momentum has built to create lasting change. Just look at the impact of Colin Kaepernick’s kneel: his one small action has changed the country forever.

I also started thinking about the specific benefits of activism as performed or done by an individual, rather than by a group. Again, I initially thought that such activism would not be as impactful or well-thought out, or that it would not reach as many people. But then I thought about how most people find it difficult to find time for a group to meet and plan some sort of event or march. I thought about how much longer it takes to plan for such an event and how difficult it is to include the needs and voices of all communities for larger-scale events. (For example, many women of color and people with disabilities felt that the Women’s March was not very inclusive to their needs.) Meanwhile, events and actions that come from the individual allow the individual to express their creativity however they choose, and these sorts of acts allow them to voice concerns that are unique to them and the community they are a part of. Perhaps such actions highlight important voices and messages that would otherwise be lost in a group action.

Additionally, more people are willing to take action or perform an act of resistance when they have the power to decide what that action is, where it is done, how it is delivered, and who it reaches. Most people want to get involved or take action in some way, but they don’t have the time, resources, capability, or motivation to do so in these groups or organized settings. Perhaps fewer marches and protests wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it meant we were seeing more articles, more art, more donations, more petitions, more performances, more videos, more discussions, and more ways of resisting that we’ve never even heard of or thought of before—simply because people felt more comfortable taking part. 

To everyone out there who wants to make a difference, who wants to create change, you absolutely can. You don’t need to have any amount or type of resource, education, partner, or money to be an activist. You don’t even need to change or influence anyone other than yourself. The idea that our actions need to result in some product of change or influence is some capitalistic bullshit, which doesn’t belong anywhere near the ideology of activism. If your act or resistance is for you and you alone, that is activism. If your act of resistance is for thousands of people, that is also activism. If you do something small every day, that creates change. If you do something big every four months, that creates change too. 

The point, my dear readers, is that we don’t need to wear ourselves out by taking part in huge-ass marches or city-wide protests that weren’t made for us. Change can be made from the individual and from small acts. In fact, such things are more accessible and inclusive, and they might even cause more lasting change. We have three years to go, so let’s start by chipping away at the oppressive institutions and values present in our society day by day, minute by minute. That is something a mind like DT’s will never expect or understand. That’s why it will work.