Everyday Activism: How Standing Up to Hate is an Ordinary, Daily Routine
John Amaechi OBE— CEO of Amaechi Performance Systems & Everyday Jedi
Most of us don’t DO anything
This post is NOT to suggest that marching for human rights and equality is unimportant or about how counter-protesting neo-Nazi’s and White Nationalists is not enough.
It’s not a rebuke of #hashtag warriors on social media.
It’s about how most of us don’t actually DO anything at all.
The fact is that very few of us march and counter-protest. We mostly don’t stand on the front lines against gun-toting, facist zealots. We, in the parlence of sport, ‘talk a good game’.
We mostly scour social media looking for those that act on our behalf, and we write messages lamenting atrocities and inequity wherever we see it.
We think and even pray about how we wish it were all better and we are unsurprisingly cowed by the sheer enormity and pervasiveness of the challenges we face in the world.
We look at the front line activists in awe: defending their native lands from polution and oil pipelines in the face of rubber bullets; linking arms, facing off against paramilitary police over dead, black boys; blocking doorways to protect scared patrons of bars from knife-wielding terrorists in suicide vests or standing undaunted, encircled by tiki-torch wielding Nazis.
Most real activism is boring and ordinary… so contractual and ubiquitous for any true citizen, as to be considered completely un-newsworthy.
We rightly venerate those who face off against tyranny and hate, but we must not be paralysed by their deeds, seemingly unable to do any more than retweet the stories of their heroic work.
This is NOT to say that spreading messages of support and solidarity on social media is unimportant — recent history tells us how powerful that medium can be — but it’s not enough to honour-in-writing those who stand at the frontlines and battle for a better, fairer society.
Most real activism is boring and ordinary; exempt from public promotion, not because it’s unimportant, but because it should be so contractual and ubiquitous for any true citizen as to be considered completely un-newsworthy.
Change doesn’t “come with time”. Time is just the substrate upon which we can make choices, or not.
Where we are today is a testament to the fact that regression can come as swiftly as progress. Today, just like in the 1930’s, there are Nazis marching on college campuses in “the land of the free”.
Change comes by being galvanised by supreme acts of good and searching to find as many ways as possible — every single day — to back up extraordinary activists; not just with our words, but with our deeds.
Throughout history, the percentage of bystanders in any society has dictated the pace and direction of change…it’s actually the preponderance of bystanders that is killing us
Everyday activists are not cheerleaders
Cheering loudly at one person’s heroism, or vociferously booing someone else’s evil doesn’t preclude you from being a bystander.
Bystanders make a lot of the same noises as activists, but they invariably fail to act swiftly or consistently enough to make any tangible difference. They are the guests to a pot-luck dinner who talk about it endlessly and effusively before and afterwards, but always “forget” to bring a dish with them on the day, they just dine out like champions on everyone else’s culinary efforts.
Activists are defined by what they do consistently; bystanders, by what they say they may someday do, or wished they’d done.
Throughout history, the percentage of bystanders in any society has dictated the pace and direction of change. It’s not the number of heroes and activists that matter, but rather the number of people who choose ‘tutting from a distance’ as their weapon of choice, in lieu of meaningful action.
I hear people wishing for a new MLK or an old President and lamenting the paucity of heroes nowadays, when it’s actually the preponderance of bystanders that is killing us.
Like many of you, I am humbled by the epic feats of humanitarian icons from before the Civil Rights movement to now, it has — in the past — allowed me to bask in their altruism, while contributing little myself. What they do is so big that it makes anything we might attempt seem pointless by comparison. However, that misunderstands the point of those who put themselves in harms way: they do it exactly to inspire ordinary people to stop thinking about doing something, and do something — whether big or small — and do it unfailingly.
Quite rightly, there are no medals for voting in your local, regional and national elections. No prizes for holding your elected officials to account. No commendations for challenging your racist Uncle at the dinner table.
There is no promotion for volunteering for organisations that fight hate.
These, and numerous other examples, are what I call ‘everyday activism’. Small things we can all commit to do from this moment on — no matter the excuses about the woes of any particular voting system, or the age and distinction of that racist Uncle or any other excuse — we can honor the extraordinary activists we respect so much, by at least committing to being their everyday counterparts.
This type of ‘everyday activism’ is made up of a thread of tiny, unwavering and routine commitments to proactively stand for those principles we say (so often on social media) that we truly believe, and that we laud when witnessing those epic clashes between good and evil, played out on TV.
The everyday activism we need to support the bravery of history’s human rights icons just isn’t that newsworthy, but Dr. King has never needed it more than today to fight the new disenfranchisement of black voters across America. Emmeline Pankhurst needs our everyday activism to finally crack that glass ceiling everywhere. Black Lives Matter campaigners need our everyday activism to ensure that policing protects and serves us all equally. The list of those who’ve rallied and died to prevent the rise of facism and ethnic nationalism is too big to inlcude here, but they too need us all, right now, to become everyday activists — to take action.
If you don’t like the term everyday activist, then by all means join me in becoming an ‘Everyday Jedi’ instead.
Jedi have always known that fear is the path to the dark side, but we’ve evolved to understand that it’s ignorance that leads to fear, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering.
We see that suffering now, so to end the cycle, we target ignorance and we commit to acting daily in such a way as to fulfil that mission. Everyday activists do the same.
This is not a call for you to stop tweeting — I know I won’t!
This is a rather a call to stop only tweeting.
Match your fervent rhetoric and clever use of gifs online with a consistent thread of small, but substantive everyday deeds that illustrate your true principles in a way that truly supports the past and current heros fighting on our behalf.