Tag Archives: activist

Talking about activism

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


Creating in a hostile climate

  • The world is terrifying right now. There are so many big issues, so much that needs changing, that any small creative act seems too little in the face of it all. We may feel guilty about not undertaking other forms of activism, we may feel our art *should* be able to do more and be frustrated that it can’t. The climate is not a good one in which to be a sensitive and creative person.

Logically I know what the answers to this are – it’s just that emotionally I can’t get it to work (yet). The answer is to think about the kind of world we want to live in, and act as individuals, and in groups, to make that real. The shit out there is nothing more than the cumulative effects of other people, deliberately and cluelessly doing stuff. We can push back. All forms of creativity can be a valid form of pushback.

I suspect the reasons I struggle emotionally is because I’m often attracted to whimsy and small acts of silliness. Small beauties, small projects, small publishing houses… I know my scale, and my very sense of where I belong conflicts with the need to be doing more. I have to work on this.

Like many people, I’ve been exposed to the folk who say ‘why are you even bothering with that when this is so much more important? Why help refugees and not feed the homeless? I have to keep reminding myself that these statements are made purely to derail by people who do nothing to help anyone. People who just spend their time knocking other people down. But they’re like toxins thrown in the ocean – my personal ocean may be bigger than them, but it still feels the effects.

One of the things we can do collectively is to affirm that each other’s contributions are good. That any small act of good, any kindness, any generosity or warmth or expression of hope, any good idea, or effort in the right direction is good, and welcome and wanted. I’m reminded of an anecdotal activist in the habit of shouting ‘don’t you want a future’ into the faces of people who do not agree with him. We have to not be that guy. We have to be the opposite of that guy, because well intended demands to do more can grind people down just effectively as trolling does. Always demanding that other people do more does not make for a better world or even get the outcomes we may seek. We have to help each other to do more, inspire and encourage each other to do more. If we lift each other, and support each other, we can do far, far more than if we pick holes in each other. And we can, with small good things, shared and appreciated.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed with ideas, experiences, shared what’s working and what isn’t. I was paralysed for a long time by what was happening with my creativity, I could not have started a rethink alone.

Why be a tree activist?

If you’ve ever tried activism, you will know how good the odds are of being hassled over your choices. Worried about refugees? Why aren’t you looking out for the homeless in this country? Worried about poverty in the UK? Didn’t you hear about the poor people facing famine? Helping animals? Why aren’t you protecting abused children instead? Helping local children? Think of all the advantages they have compared to animals who can’t speak for themselves. So yes, why be a tree activist rather than saving elephants, fighting for world peace, or some other cause?

It’s important to me to flag up just how fraudulent the whole line of questioning is. Anyone who tries to help in any way is likely to be hit by one of these. It very seldom comes from other campaigners. It usually comes from people who aren’t doing anything but want to derail you. This is a tactic, and the effect of the tactic is to wear down and overwhelm anyone who thought they could help. It comes (I think) from people who are so defeated, so crushed and dehumanised themselves in face of all that is wrong, that they cannot bear anyone else trying to improve things. If anyone else keeps going, it probably invalidates their sense of being entitled to not try. That’s my guess.

So I took up tree activism, because I needed to pick something to focus on. There are many, many causes I care about and I’ll help where I can, but I can’t be an effective, active sort of activist for everything, there aren’t enough hours in the day. Also, I love trees.

Standing up for trees does a whole array of other things. Protecting trees means protecting habitats for other creatures, and green spaces for the good of human mental health. Trees take carbon out of the air, so protecting trees is a way of fighting climate change. Woodland in the UK helps prevent flooding. Woodlands overlap with human heritage sites – Sherwood Forest being an obvious example. There’s lots of traditional, more sustainable small scale industries depend on trees, while resisting development to protect woods is still resisting development. It ties in with being anti-fracking, anti-pollution, anti unsustainable development.

For me though, the best bit is that tree activism isn’t just about resisting. It’s not just about saying ‘no’ to a horrible, destructive future. It’s also very much about having a positive vision. A vision that is literally greener and cleaner. A vision of landscapes protected for the good of everything in them – humans included. A slower, quieter, more human way of life, with plenty of peace and beauty for all. A kinder, gentler, more accommodating future. The culture that gets its head straight about the importance of trees will have also figured out why trees are good for people, and why people don’t do so well in nosy, polluted, stressful environments.

Want to know more? http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blogs/woodland-trust/