Most forms of activism are about communication. It’s the business of educating and informing, challenging, sometimes even demanding. Activists identify things that need to change, and, by word and deed, attempt to get others on board with that change. It may be about changing views held in the dominant culture, changing laws, changing behaviour and it can be needful in any aspect of human activity.
I’ve been involved with all kinds of activism for most of my adult life, and I notice there are ways of doing it that work better than others. I know there’s a widespread feeling that too much negativity doesn’t serve any cause, but this is going to be a blog all about the negatives. Much depends on context, and on working out what serves the situation, but some things never have much mileage in them.
- Alienating people who could have been persuaded to get onside. Most often I see this with people who moved towards, trying to understand and needing help. We alienate them by demanding they already know, demanding they educate themselves, or putting them down for not being good enough allies. This does not tend to turn them into allies, and may breed resentment.
- Focusing on the wrong things – mostly this means focusing on people with little power and influence who are easy to harass rather than going after the difficult ones who can change things. Blaming people who have no more power to change things than you do can be cathartic in the short term, but does not get results.
- Letting ego take over from the message. People who spend a lot of time talking about what fantastic activists and allies they are, not actually doing any of the work of being an activist or an ally. If the activism is propping you up and not the other way round, you’re doing it wrong!
- Noise, not difference. Talking about things can feel like good activism, but if you’re talking in an echo chamber, nothing is changing. If you’re picking over whose making the tablecloths for the post-revolution party, and not working towards the needed change, it’s more daydreaming than activism. There can be some culture shift gains from just talking about stuff, but they often aren’t as big as we think they are.
- Not walking the talk. If your life doesn’t express your values, then your values appear pretty hollow to anyone looking. No one will be persuaded by this. Don’t ask other people to make lifestyle changes you haven’t made yourself. Don’t ask other people to solve problems you are not personally working on solving as well. Offering solutions is more effective than just demanding change.
- Not taking into account other people’s limitations. Poverty, disability, lack of education, lack of opportunity and the like can make it difficult for people to do what you think they should be doing. Activism cannot be a middle class hobby, real change has to be viable for everyone, so make sure the change is inclusive, and don’t bully anyone for not having the resources to do things your way.