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Who are you when the protest is over?

April 10, 2018

I think the answer to this question is where the distinction between an empathy toward and understanding of the issues, what I consider wokeness, and working to combat the issues, what I consider activism, is perhaps most important.


With wokeness alone there aren't any obligations. The quality of one's person really doesn't matter because it's ultimately unrelated to an individual understanding of the issues. But as soon as you step into that activist role, your character flaws carry weight. There are those who want to do the work of an activist while uninterested in, or sometimes in lieu of, working on themselves; something which may ultimately prove detrimental to both the individual and the community as they end up in positions of power and responsibility.


I firmly believe that activism is not an identity, it is a practice. Much like with all practices, you can perform well or not so much, you can falter and improve, it benefits from both passion and skill. As I've come to understand it, activism and leadership are interconnected. The work to organize, mobilize, convince, persuade, sometimes publicly, sometimes behind the scenes, that's what's that title means to me. By extension activism is aspirational by nature; requiring an unwavering focus on other people, both victims and culprits, which at times leaves little space for you to worry about you.


This selflessness is rooted in compassion so it's no surprise that activism often calls upon the best of us, but it doesn't reinvent you or mask anything, it’s just an addition to everything that's already there. It either blends well with everything else that makes you you, or it doesn't. Social justice only draws your flaws further into the light. Almost anything is easier than working on yourself, including working against an oppressor.


In that bubble of self-righteousness your actions are not victimless. Sometimes passion and good work ethic are enough to finesse you a seat at the table with the people in power. Didn't need anybody else's trust or respect, nothing but your own self validation and that's exactly why you shouldn't be there. You’ve got none of the skills necessary to perform in that space as an effective representative - potentially ruining an opportunity people were counting on you to make the best possible use of. 


You have to know how to get results, not for you, but for the community. That's what you signed up for when you adopted the title. Activism isn’t about you. For some people the work of activism alone leads to a sense of elevation, results don’t matter. There's a constant cycle internal validation - beyond criticism, beyond growth. But activism demands people of high integrity, social justice is its own form of quality control because the real work of activism stems from a community that you are always visible and always accountable to.


How you respond to and perform under that pressure will have much to do with who you are outside of a social justice context. Activism, for all its nobility and harsh emotional demands, will never relieve accountability to your behavior, shortcomings, and failures. Who you are when the protest is over will always be who people will see while it's happening. 

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