Tiny #2: Activism. Have we unconsciously changed the meaning of the term (or maybe we want to)?

I’m not that fond of binaries or categories or putting people in boxes or them putting me into boxes. But I work to build frameworks to make sense of complexity. And I have fun with stereotypes. And I have a few words i might choose to describe my identity that might be reductive.

Activist is a classification that is thought to be a badge of honor in some circles and a black mark in others. Recently, I have confronted the questions: am I or am I not an activist? Does it matter? Who is, who isn’t? Does it matter?

I wanted to get to the bottom of it. So I asked around: do you consider yourself an activist? Why or why not? Then I looked up the textbook definition. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from my search: approaches to social and political change can highly vary, but we tend to define the activist approach as “organized” or “structured”.

My question is how do we determine if something is organized? If it is intentional, isn’t it organized? And when it isn’t intentional, doesn’t is still count? For me, behind every activist is a support system of people, are they activists too? In every village I have been in there is a leader or many leaders who create change every day but don’t consider it organized or it isn’t organized in the way that many of us might define it. In every household, I see the same.

What’s an activist then? Is it useful to distinguish between those who are, and those who presumably are not?

In this time of heightened American energy in politics, I wonder if those of us who have been supporting inclusion are starting to be exclusive? I hear rumblings of: Are the “new activists” as organized as genuine as effective? I see us going down a possibly dangerous path. And I wonder if there are more constructive ways to first, assume everyone has been positively changing things around them in their own ways, and then growing together from there?