[Fwd: 13 Lucky Tips for Activists]

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Wed, 07 Apr 1999 19:43:11 -0400

-------- Original Message --------
>13 Lucky Tips for Activists
>by Errol Schweitzer
>(reproduce at will)
>Inevitable Disclaimer:
>This column is not meant to offend hard-working activists who are devoting
>much of their time and energy to social and environmental issues. It is
>meant as a critique of those qualities that may keep us from building an
>actual Movement. I know of many activists that are guilty of the things
>listed below, including myself. So please don't feel offended (which brings
>us to our first point...)
>I - Have a sense of humor.
>The world is not going to change overnight, no matter how hard you work.
>Take time out to laugh at how messed up things really are. Take time out to
>laugh at yourself and the incremental changes that you and others are
>striving so hard for. A good chuckle now and then keeps things in
>perspective and may actually make you feel better about the work you have
>accomplished. Making fun of yourself and other activists may be a form of
>critique, and we all know that...
>II - Critique is necessary and vital for activism.
>Analyzing what went wrong and what went right about an action or a campaign
>may help you to not repeat the same mistakes twice. Listen to what others
>outside your group have to say, especially the opposition, which may be the
>perfect foil for your cause. Many great activists and revolutionaries
>engaged in rigorous self-criticism to realize what they did right or wrong.
>Luckily, unlike Che or Durruti, we don't have to do it under a hail of
>bullets (at least not yet).
>III - Treat everyone as individuals.
>It irks me when Marxists and anarchists refer to "the masses" or when
>anti-corporate activists refer to their peers as "MTV kids." By lumping
>people into faceless categories we forget that we are dealing with people
>who have reasons for believing the things they do, whether it is family
>upbringing, the influence of religion or state propaganda, or just growing
>up in this damn culture. When you approach people as individuals, you
>remember that once upon a time you, too may not have had the beliefs you do
>now and may have been alienated by how some activists can come off when
>trying to spread their message. And so, the most important aspect of
>reaching out to people may not be what you have to say but actually to...
>IV - Listen to what others have to say and know your audience.
>Sometimes people's responses to what you have to say may be the best guide
>for learning what you shouldn't do next time. When you know who you are
>speaking to, you can craft your message it appeals to them. This is
>something the Christian Right learned long ago in their direct mail
>campaigns. For example:
>By knowing your audience you can personalize the issue so that is not some
>abstract cause that they cannot relate to their everyday experience. If you
>are talking about immigrants' rights to some middle class white people, you
>can preface your point by mentioning "Imagine if this had happened to your
>grandparents when they were trying to escape the (famines, wars, genocide,
>intolerance) that brought them here." If you are talking to some kids on
>street about how McDonalds is fucked up, don't just dwell on the facts that
>they kill millions of animals every year and use beef grown on former
>rainforest land. Many of the kids in my neighborhood can relate to the fact
>that McD's pays bad wages and makes you work long, grueling hours.
>4a. - And oh yeah... ditch the highfalutin lingo! If you insist on
>"subsuming the other" and "deconstructing the privileged hegemonies of
>socioeconomic systems" then don't expect much of a response. If you know
>your audience then you can talk to them at their level, not Foucault's.
>Besides, those big words are a privilege of those lucky enough to have been
>college educated and can set up an uncomfortable power dynamic. What's the
>use of promoting social change when you convey it in an elitist fashion?
>V - And stop screaming all the time!
>Yeah, we're pissed off but if we are always screaming AT people instead of
>talking to them, then they won't listen. So before you go to a protest, go
>work out or jog or something.You'd be surprised how people respond when you
>talk politely to them. There IS a time for anger, and then there is a time
>for discussion. So think before you scream.
>VI - Single-issue activism can be problematic.
>While we all have certain issues that are closest to our hearts, we
>shouldn't close our minds to the possible interconnections between these
>issues or stop from examining how they may have similar historic roots.
>Sometimes single-issue activism can be very detrimental, such as how some
>environmentalists echo right-wing propaganda about immigration or how some
>anti-racist activists are just as homophobic as the KKK.
>VII - Having progressive politics does not exempt you from being an
>There are more than a few "progressive" people who are sexist pigs or hold
>some pretty questionable ideas about race and class. And activists can be
>just as cliquey and backstabbing as frat-people. The redeeming thing is that
>at least by getting involved the door is open for talking about these
>issues, right???
>VIII - You can't save the world via e-mail.
>Your computer is a product of the techno-capitalist system and whatever good
>you do with it does not equal the power it has given Corporate America. No
>matter how efficient, technology can never replace the power and intimacy of
>human communication and contact. The internet itself was designed by the
>Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as a way to
>decentralize communications in the advent of nuclear war. And over 98% of
>the internet's usefulness has been in speeding up commerce for speculative
>investment by very wealthy people all over the world. Admittedly, the
>internet has increased our communications and has helped to make progressive
>movements more globally linked; the Zapatistas may have been crushed if not
>for the e-mail updates they sent out during their uprising. But we can't
>rely on techno-activism all the time. And one other thing: Y2K.
>IX - Leave the "ism's" at home.
>"So that's nice. You are a (insert typical social change label here)." To
>most people who don't share these beliefs, these labels are loaded with
>media stereotypes and corporate propaganda that demean the positive aspects
>that these labels carry for you and me. For example, after saying to someone
>"I am a multiculturalist," he responded with "So you hate white people?"
>Instead, I should have said, "I believe in seeing race as a historical
>construct; it is not real in any physical or biological sense, but people
>are manipulated into believing that it is and treating it so." And maybe
>that would have spurred some lively discussion.
>So before you announce yourself as some left-wing "ism-ist", consider what
>may be going on in someone else's head about what you label yourself. Just
>think of what you considered a "communist" or "anarchist" before you became
>so enlightened; what do most people hear about these terms from the media?
>Let your actions define you, not your "ism's"
>X - Lifestyle fascism sucks.
>A major problem with many activists is instead of personalizing the
>political, they politicize the personal. Finding flaws in other people's
>lifestyles becomes something of a hobby for many progressive-types, instead
>of identifying and deconstructing the institutions that are the source of
>violence against humans, animals and the environment. It is an easy way out
>of making real change happen by just attacking this or that consumption
>What we need to remember is that by identifying certain aspects of Western
>lifestyle, such as meat-eating, smoking, or not boycotting the latest trendy
>issue, we are forgetting that it is the whole damn system that is wrong. Our
>power is more than our pocketbooks alone. To make real change we need to
>organize and find things that more of us have in common, not alienate others
>because they don't conform to some lifestyle guidelines. Why recapitulate
>the authoritarian tactics of the Christian Right or corporate America? Let
>people decide for themselves what they can or cannot boycott and get off the
>moral soapbox.
>XI - Ha! Ha! Ha! You're gonna burnout!
>Few things hurt our causes as much as exhaustion and the implosion of those
>who have just "had enough." You make bad decisions, you alienate friends and
>family, your personal hygiene takes a nosedive. You know what? You need a
>break! Take a nap, paint a picture, do something to relax your mind and
>body. Let your energy and zeal come back. Activism is tough and victories
>can be few and far between, so learn and take it easy. Even Assata Shakur
>says that the most important thing is to grow personally, to maintain
>relationships and hobbies. The revolution doesn't need zombies or robots. It
>needs people.
>XII - Stop the sectarianism!
>Of course, this is like asking for tropical weather in Binghamton, but hey,
>might as well. From petty internecine squabbles at the local Food Coop to
>writers of "The Nation" insisting there are two (or more) "Left's", the
>movement has fractured and fragmented into so many little cliques and
>ideologies that you wonder what we have in common anymore other than our
>dislike for each other. While some of the bitterness is left over from past
>counterinsurgency operations, such as the FBI's Cointelpro and the CIA's MH
>Chaos, a good deal of it is just because of activists who have split due to
>personal disagreements and arguments over ideology and strategy. Wherever I
>have been, it always seems like this one doesn't like that one, that group
>betrayed the cause, this one is a sellout, that one is too extreme, etc. As
>dismaying as this is, there are still so many people working for change that
>I must ask: can't we agree on certain vital things? Do we have at least a
>common enemy? Can we forget our differences and actually work towards some
>sort of consensus so that we stop shooting ourselves in the feet? If you are
>new to activism, stay above the pettiness and concentrate on the issues at
>hand. If you are from the old school, then us young folks need your
>experience, not your gripes and grudges.
>XIII - Redefine activism.
>Activism is an accepted cultural niche in our society. C'mon, we all know
>the stereotypes: bad dresser, self-righteous about this or that issue,
>screaming and chanting, holding up signs, getting dragged away by cops, etc.
>But by becoming part of this "activist" culture we alienate many whose side
>we are supposedly on. How many people can relate when they see media-bites
>of these "wackos?" How often do we feed these stereotypes?
>But look what is happening. More and more people fighting for social change
>are just "regular" people: a one-day general strike by NYC cabbies in May
>virtually shut down the city; thousands gathered to demonstrate against
>anti-gay violence in NY this October; recent general strikes in Puerto Rico
>and Colombia had hundreds of thousands of participants; 40,000 construction
>workers in NYC protesting non-union contracts, etc. And then there are the
>selfless acts we will never hear about: people forming support groups and
>discussion groups; people identifying who they are and where they fit into
>this society; people choosing to boycott some product or lifestyle, when and
>if they can. These are just people responding to the basic stimulus that
>their lives are being fucked with and they are not going to sit back and
>take it. These are activists as well. This is how revolutions come about.
>People who consider themselves "activists" have to break out the
>preconceived molds and listen to what people are really talking about.
>Anarchism, multiculturalism, feminism, communism, veganism are all just
>words until our actions give them real meaning and we define for ourselves
>what our activism really is. Until then, activism is going to be this small,
>accepted, ineffectual cultural niche that alienates the people who it is
>supposed to be reaching out to.
>Peace and Unity, Leif Brecke
>"Through unity, solidarity, and love, we will heal the wounds of our Mother
>(earth) and each other."- Julia 'Butterfly' Hill (Who has been sitting in
>Luna, an ancient redwood tree since Dec. 1997)
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