Activism–Is It Really Useless?

Written by on August 7, 2022 in Conversations on the Healing Journey with 0 Comments

Mountain climbers reaching the rocky summit

More and more it seems that mountain is getting steeper and steeper, and life is just sliding backwards, our reality, our progress, even our minds. What’s alarming is not just the reoccurring tragedies of mass shootings in the United States, the threat of fascism, violence, assaults against progressive rights and the environment but the impact all of that has on us, emotionally and psychologically.

These ongoing events seem to engender a growing sense of futility, particularly among activists, and others who care about people and the planet.

Someone I had previously looked up to as a writer of thought-provoking and inspirational ideas expressed this futility. The reasons they gave for it were as follows:

  1. Progressive change, like gun control, isn’t going to happen in this political climate.
  2. Changing laws never changed people—violence, racism, misogyny, bigotry and gross entitlement still exist.
  3. Activism to change that reality will only lead you to disillusionment followed by despair, burnout and bitterness.

What startled me was their conclusion, paraphrased here. Therefore, stop trying to litigate change through the law. Your disillusionment and ensuing negative feelings will only add to the world’s disillusionment and negative state. Work on yourself. Lift the consciousness of humanity by lifting yours. Make a difference that way.

My first reaction was, Wow, that’s a pretty privileged position to take. But their position was not unique. Other voices made the same argument.

I’d like to add mine, but with a different perspective.

First, I want to address the above three arguments made to arrive at this conclusion. In a following post, I’ll address the conclusion.

 

Change that waits for permission to happen, never happens

  • Argument #1: Progressive change, such as responsible gun control, isn’t going to happen in this political climate.
  • Response: Change that waits for permission to happen, doesn’t.

The issue of children being gunned down in schools needs to be addressed now. Inequities that arise from bigotry, entitlement and greed need to be answered to now.

Not when it’s convenient for those who profit from injustice to develop a conscience, or to loosen their grip a little on their power and privilege—a little activism, and then we can all go home. It doesn’t happen like that.

The political climate of any society leans toward maintaining the status quo, often regardless how oppressive or destructive it is. Or maybe in direct relation to how oppressive or destructive the status quo is, because inequality means most of the power lies in the hands of the few, and the few use that power to keep it.

It’s activism, advocacy and effort for social change, that changes the political climate.

We are the climate. It’s not something that exists outside of us. The readiness and willingness needed is ours, to start hammering away or chipping away at the inertia of oppression.

Sometimes it falls upon us to diligently plow up the hardened land to make it more yielding for the seeds we, and others who come after us, will plant.

Who has the luxury to wait for a more accepting climate to unfold on its own?

Not those who suffer.

 

Changing laws is a step, not the end all

  • Argument #2: Changing laws never changed people—violence, racism, misogyny and every other form of bigotry and hate still exist.
  • Response: It’s not meant to.

Changing laws is a step, not the final goal.

Laws are not meant to change beliefs and worldviews. Laws governing interactions and securing equity are meant to ensure fair treatment and opportunities in the work place, education, where we gather or congregate, where we choose or desire to live, and freedom to decide personal matters for us, like how we define who we are and whom we love.

Laws are meant to change the structures that perpetuate, support and sustain bigotry and prejudice. Not necessarily the beliefs that built those structures.

Laws may affect beliefs by withholding validation and justification from discriminatory practices that arise from bias, bigotry and prejudice. But it takes more than law to change a heart.

Laws change behavior. You can believe certain people, based on something arbitrary like skin color, don’t deserve to live in your neighborhood, but you can’t legally prevent them from purchasing a house down the street.

A law is the statement that, We hold certain values as a society. We’re not waiting around for you to live by them. We need to ensure that in your interactions with others in these specific areas, you do.

Laws that enforce equitable treatment enable marginalized people to live lives less limited by the limited beliefs of others.

This is not a minor thing.

For those who refuse to change, certainly, those are the ones for whom you cannot legislate human decency, but laws can curtail hurtful practices. To judge the efficacy of laws for its failure to do what they were never designed to do is simply not fair.

The fact that bigotry and prejudice still exist doesn’t change the fact that laws do serve a good purpose.

Can anyone assert that the change from being able to own people to not being able to own people is an inconsequential improvement?…or that the efforts, and the cost, to win the fight for that change was a kind of a waste of time, because in the short and long run, racism and white supremacy still exist?

The Civil War in the Almost Not United States, and Civil Rights Movement a hundred years later, didn’t take us all the way home, but they definitely pointed us in the right direction.

And that has value. Backlash notwithstanding. Reversals notwithstanding. It was worth fighting for then. It’s worth fighting for now.

Disillusionment comes with the territory—it doesn’t mean you have to stay there

  • Argument #3: Activism will only lead you to disillusionment followed by despair, burnout and bitterness.
  • Response: It comes with the territory.

That doesn’t mean you have to quit or live out your remaining years in that state.

Of course activism can be utterly frustrating! The injustices you fight are deeply rooted. The inertia against change is strong. The suffering it causes is often justified by religions, rationalized by philosophies and maintained through coercion and force.

Perhaps the greatest evil is when it becomes normalized, and the suffering of large swaths of population gets sanitized and swept under the worn rug of “culture”.

It’s overwhelming to let the cruelty, of which humanity is capable, sink in.

It’s unnerving to realize the length to which people will fight against the Golden Rule, as if it were a teaching of the devil.

It’s heartbreaking how the human heart can be closed off to the destruction of the earth, and the suffering of children, for financial gain, never-ending, never-enough financial gain.

Fanaticism, religious and political, is dangerous. It becomes a deadly contagion when manipulated and weaponized by those who seek power or desire to keep it.

In this present day America, with one of the most far-reaching propaganda machinery, disguised as news to further such agendas, we are in perilous times.

We have reason to feel discouraged. There are times we will be disillusioned. Bigotry and oppression feed off fear and greed. That’s a helluva diet, and it grows a formidable beast to fight and take a stand against.

We may burn out. We may fall into despair and bitterness. That’s not failure.

What it is, is a sign we need to step back a moment, a message that it may be time to breathe, to rest, to heal and regroup.

It may be an invitation to reassess our methods, to perhaps approach it from another angle or choose another way to participate if that’s better for us.

The problem isn’t our activism, so the solution isn’t to quit it. The problem is the bigotry and its indifference to suffering.

And yes, activism can acquaint us with disillusionment, but it can also lead us to things wondrous and powerful.

The power and wonder of activism

Activism is hard work and a bringer of many blessings.

Activism grows you as a person, and shows you who you are. It provides opportunity to go beyond yourself. It broadens your world, your perspective.

Activism expands empathy. It turns your compassion and your decision to act on that compassion into a powerful synergy, a force bigger than the sum of its parts, for good.

Activism connects you with other activists, making you realize you’re not alone. You become a part of a community of shared convictions. It gives you a sense of belonging and support.

Activism becomes the means through which you can channel your anger, an anger that arises from your good heart, when you see other people suffering, when you feel the weight and threat of oppression toward yourself and those you love. Through activism, that anger becomes the fuel that drives you to making a difference while taking a stand.

Activism is never wasted. Whether it reaches your desired goal or not, you do make a difference. Not knowing what that difference is doesn’t change the fact that it’s made.

You may think you’re fighting for gun control or racial equality, or women’s rights or something else large scale, and you may be. At the very least, you are preparing the way, breaking the ground.

But you’re also doing something else.

When you speak up for others, you make them feel seen and heard. You let them know they matter. That is not a small thing.

You may give someone hope they didn’t have a moment ago, or a moment of healing for a deep loss, or a pause to rethink what they always thought they knew.

Despite our goal oriented society, sometimes the most important path isn’t the one straight ahead but the barely perceptible ones that go off the main road, into the overgrowth, swallowed up out of sight. These are the tiny pathways that find themselves making their way into the heart, the life, of another.

And sometimes, that is enough.

* * *

I’m going to try to record this article in my own voice and add it to the top of this article by the end of this week. Part 2 of this two-part post will be published in another week.

Until then, stay true to your journey, to the light in your heart, to who you are and who you are becoming, always.

This is Demian Yumei,
Keeping the Dream

[Photo by Mathias Jensen at Unsplash.com]

 

About the Author

About the Author: Demian Yumei, author, singer/songwriter and artist activist, using spoken, written word and original songs in her human rights activism. Demian is a traveler on the healing journey with a lifelong love affair with the creative process. .

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