Personal Chronicles, Point of View // 07.25.2013

When Activists Talk…Too Much?

Article by Abena

Last week I attended a discussion on the topic of how to be a force of change in the world in light of the Trayvon Martin case verdict and in honor of Nelson Mandela Day. It was titled: ‘How Can I be More Just and Change the World? A Discussion on the Hurdles and Hopes of Social Activism.’

I thought we were there to talk about what each of us can do to ensure that prejudice doesn’t perpetuate itself in our circles. I had been hoping that each of us would acknowledge a) the nature of the environment(s) we live in with respect to racism, violence and prejudice against different groups, specifically racial and ethnic groups since we were there in honor of Trayvon and Nelson Mandela; b) our status and roles in these environments and;  c) what we can do given our respective roles/positions.

Here are some of the things that disappointed me:

1)      Instead, we talked about past failures as activists-which is a useful place to start. But then we had a theoretical discussion about how activists’ conversations are too academic and theoretical.

2)     I was interested in learning about tools as systems thinking models that could be applicable to social justice. We looked briefly at the iceberg model and a couple other  models but I don’t remember them because we went over them so quickly.

3)      It could have been more guided . In the beginning of the evening they showed the video of Martin Bashir responding to the “not guilty” verdict.  We could have used that as a platform for direct discussion and a possible plan of action but I felt the discussion became very  broad, with no one giving it clear direction and setting clear outcomes.

Looking back at the Facebook page, there was no promise of action or outcomes. I was just eager to get more into the action part of being an activist. Not that I would call myself an activist; I’ve never been to a rally or protest. I’ve never written a letter to anyone in government or public figures.  I do want to be more aware of and responsive to important events that are occurring in the world.

Even though we didn’t come up with placard slogans for a protest  or plan to show up naked in Wal-Mart protesting clothing made in sweatshops, the evening wasn’t all disappointing.

Here are some things I found useful:  

1)      The guy  who organized the event shared how he is becoming just. He confessed that there were certain people whom he thought were “despicable”.  Despite his feelings and judgments of them, he welcomed them into his home and spent time with them. They became less “despicable to him” not necessarily because they changed their ways or beliefs ( he didn’t disclose what exactly turned him off about these individuals) but because he got to know them  and his perceptions changed into understanding and  appreciation.

2)      One of the girls shared that she worked with an anti-bullying organization that focuses on LGBTQ ( lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer) youth in high schools. She is not the charismatic, money raising, public figure that her boss is. She’s the one the youth call in the middle of the night to cry or vent to. Her position is small but huge in those kids lives. Her name won’t be known far and wide but she very well could be saving lives and is building confidence in marginalized people.  The one-on-one relationships we have are important.

3)      The tea should always be hotter than the pot. This is for activists, people of privilege, or people not directly affected by an issue but passionate about it and stand in solidarity with those who are affected.  We have to make sure we’re not barging our way into spaces when it’s not our place to speak. This is about recognizing when it’s our place to be naming issues and solutions and when it’s our place to echo the issues and solutions that are being voiced by those who are actually living it and then asking, “How can we help?”


It is important to think through our actions and not to just react to events that anger us. Further, even though we know a lot about social justice and various causes, we don’t know it all and so we need to remain willing to learn, which can come about through discussion.  But it is also important to know when to stop talking and do something.

We all have a role to play in creating a more just world. Many of us are still trying to figure out what that is. But here’s one for all of us: get to know someone who is “other”  and see they are not  so despicable after all.

Leave a Reply