What Does it Take to be an Activist?
It takes courage – courage to believe in yourself, courage to face opponents, courage to be able to argue the facts, and stand up to those who try to undermine you.
It takes anger – anger against what you believe to be wrong, harmful or unjust.
It takes confidence – confidence to stand alone, lead or support a minority, confidence to stand with those who are weaker, discriminated against and less powerful, confidence in your own judgement.
It takes knowledge – knowledge of the facts, of what is hidden, of what is manipulated, knowledge of the injustice, knowledge of the consequences.
And it takes time – time to gain a thorough understanding, time to plan, time to gather troops.
Activism is difficult. It can be uncomfortable, alienating, dangerous and time consuming.
To be an activist is to be clear on what is right and wrong.
Simply standing up for those around you who are discriminated against – a senior person, a junior person, a fearful person – is activism. Making troublesome choices that care for the environment, living creatures and society – is activism. Joining a group for the betterment of the community is activism.
Those activists who go beyond their immediate world and challenge those with the power, those who lead a cause that affects others, will often be persecuted. They are presented as troublemakers, irrational, stupid and wrong. Their act is misrepresented and undermined by deflection, by the cause itself being manipulated or the action being scrutinised to overemphasize the faults.
There have been many activists in history who have suffered greatly for their cause. They have been jailed, tortured, demoralised, lied about, joked about and killed.
The point of this Blog Post is – activists should be respected, whether you agree with them or not. Because, they are not fighting a cause to be famous or rich or to have something to do. They fight to achieve what they believe is right. And if you look back in history, what may have started out as something trivial, laughable and irrational, has turned out to be something important.
The Bishnoi people of Rajasthan India, back in 1730, were the original “tree huggers.” They died trying to save their forest. This literal, but derogatory term, is used frequently to belittle defenders of the environment, even in “environmentally conscious” Australia.
At one time, in the southern states of America, Eleanor Roosevelt was told, “You have ruined the niggers. They weren’t race conscious until you started hobnobbing with them.” This outstanding humanitarian of the 1940s and 50s was maligned by sexual allegations and malicious jokes, totally designed to undermine her.
The fight against cruelty to animals, discrimination, the decimation of biodiversity, food wastage, water pollution, mining in sensitive areas, and air pollution, are all examples of just causes. We need to do our best to do no harm, to contribute to the betterment of the world’s health, to think as a member of society and the global community, and not purely as an individual.
But if we wish to make a large impact, we need to have the qualities and skills of an activist. We need to focus on one issue. We need to care so much about that issue that we don’t care what people think.
Young Greta Thunberg hasn’t chosen a small issue or a straightforward one. It is one of the most complicated and controversial issues of our time. The discussion around climate change is both scientific and emotional. I used to say I wasn’t a fan of Greta’s. The sixteen-year old embarked on her mission when she was thirteen. She is a child, easy to use, belittle and dismiss. I have read the arguments against her, the hypotheses and the scathing accusations. I wasn’t going to be manipulated. Then a friend, disappointed in my assessment, gave me the book of her speeches. Her desire is straightforward: Adults and World Leaders – listen to the scientists, read the data, inform yourselves and act urgently to stop the increasing temperature of the earth. If you agree that the earth is warming, there is good reason to act urgently. If you agree with the scientific facts that she refers to, there is good reason to act drastically.
Greta is told to stop being disruptive, stop scare mongering and go back to school to finish her education. She says she will, as soon as the leaders start taking action, because without that, there is no point.
Look at history. Don’t dismiss what Greta says before thinking and learning about it. And don’t hate her for being an activist.
The humanitarian, Urmi Basu, recently advised me, “If you really want to know what’s going on in a place, find out what the activists are doing.” Those few words have changed my entire way of thinking.
It’s not likely I will ever be a leading activist. But I will do my best to contribute to the world’s well-being. I vow to remain open minded, curious, community minded, environmentally careful and more courageous than comfortable. My form of activism will be small and spread wide. I will write about issues that I care about. And in that way, I will call myself an activist.
Will you be one too?
Greta Thunberg No One is Too Small to make a Difference.
“Everyone and everything needs to change. But the bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty.”
Urmi Basu, founder of New Light India, a refuge for children and young adults at risk in the red-light district of Kolkata. www.newlightindia.org
Brene Brown, Research Professor, public speaker, writer and social worker who says, “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort.”
Eleanor Roosevelt, American first Lady 1933-45, diplomat and humanitarian, activist until she died in 1962, for child welfare, housing reform, equal rights for women and racial minorities.
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”
“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.”
Animals Australia https://www.animalsaustralia.org/ Photo credit.