This Isn’t Activism

Yesterday found me in Durham, NC on the receiving end of good rotisserie chicken and a chat about being socially conscious. We talked about trying to be a good human, share information about causes, and telling people not to be shitty on the internet. Specifically, we talked about our aversion to being thanked for just putting information out there and asking people to do better.

“Thanks, but I’m just trying to be decent, ya know? But I can’t do that without people seeing me as some kind of advocate and I’m not trying to be all that…”

I swallowed some Inca Cola and just said, “But that’s the thing… we aren’t tho…”

Let’s get into this.

You Aren’t An Activist

It’s a common phrase among some of my college friends that the US has suffered since the removal of civics class from the school curriculum. It is my belief that this is purposeful, but I digress.

The general understanding of federal, state, and local government for the common person in the US is low and doesn’t come up in conversation often. This is decidedly true where I live. Because of that, we have this sense that anyone who talks about it has to know a whole lot about activism and therefore demand that knowledge and lifestyle from them.

Here’s the thing: being a decent, non-shitty human doesn’t make you an activist.

Reread that.

Telling people to treat marginalized folks well doesn’t make you an activist on its own. Voting “no” on transphobic laws doesn’t make you an activist on its own. Being an activist isn’t so incidental that you check a box and clock out.

It is an active, intentional involvement in the world around you on a sociopolitical level. It’s boring talks about how things in your area and beyond are turning and getting people aware and involved. It’s keeping track of your elections and the context of what’s happening around them. It includes the use of all of your areas of influence – online and off – to make that happen. It’s the study and understanding of what has already happened before you, how it influences things in the present, and connecting with others in that space around you. It’s reading and meetings and a bunch of really boring shit.

It’s also the understanding of how to start a movement. How to maintain sustained effort and pressure to get things done for the cause(s) you share where the vulnerable among us are concerned.

Understand that activism takes many forms, but one more time for the people in the back: the one form it doesn’t take is unintentional action.

When You Don’t Read The Label

But somehow, we’ve come to believe that people who aren’t doing that dedicated and focused work are activist which has left us with people who demanded Lizzo be an activist because she loves herself and her fat body and makes music about these things and felt this automatically meant she should be a body positivity advocate when she never described herself as one.

It leaves us with people who think that a pride flag, a black fist, or a #BLM in your twitter profile means you’re doing the work with no other qualifier. It leaves us with people who co-opt the language of activism for clout, but then crumble when they have to organize people in a way that creates substance and lasting effects.

This mess is why Shaun King (aka W.E.B. DuFraud) resurfaces like a groundhog every few years to scam the marginalized and why we manage to get the spark of advocacy/activism only for it to disappear at the announcement of Diablo II Resurrected or TwitchCon 2022.

This is a plea for us to consider that activism isn’t just simple human decency or kindness, but engaging our environment with an intent to impact the areas we live in ways that often go unnoticed and unrewarded.

It’s easy to let social media warp our RTs, posts, and such into something much bigger than they are, but if we’re going to call ourselves activists or advocates, that should be a choice we actively make, not something that that gets ascribed to us without our consent because we RT’d something from LilNasX.

I beg.