Community & Activism

Can & should they be one thing?

This is something I’ve been thinking about. I’m not sure if it’s accurate or not but I wanted to put it out there and see if it’s useful to anyone.

I think a lot of people run into activism online or in person and these people (activists) are the first people to validate their lived experiences of oppression and dissatisfaction with power structures, government, etc.

Because of that people feel that activism & community are one and the same. That activism is a community.

But is it? And can you sustain yourself on that as your primary social community?

I used to think that that was viable. I had a lot of personal affection and respect for activists, so those were my community. Among others for awhile, but for a time after I moved, they were all of my community. I think this happens often when people are isolated and passionate about a cause.

Eventually I saw that of course, in anything organized, some people will just be in it for power, other people will use the cause to act out their personal pain unrelated to the cause. And in communities people’s personal charisma and connections often override anything else regarding who is “right”. These two things mixing seems dangerous to me.

I see a lot of people suffering trying to fit into activist communities.

I also see people struggling because in social justice it often becomes “I have suffered the most by some equation of systematic inequality, and everyone else has silly problems and is unreasonably fragile.”

Listen. I was super angry for a long time. I still am. I funneled a lot of my personal pain into activism.

That was my choice. There are plenty of people who are as or way more marginalized and/or individually abused as/than me who did not cope that way, and I have never expected anyone to prove themselves to be good people by becoming activists.

I think that there might be a problem when people try to completely blend activism and community.

A community has to be about taking care of each other, all of us, including emotionally. It isn’t only taking care of the most oppressed or abused, and telling others their problems don’t matter. We take care of who is hurting right now in whatever ways, we are all there for each other.

Activism seems to be most effective when organized and goal oriented.

For an activist group to be a community itself, wouldn’t it have to exclude allies from the activism, as energy cannot be spent on them emotionally?

Some people think allies are necessary for activism and should take on the bulk of the work; others think they have no place in it, I think most people are somewhere in the middle on that.

An activist organization or group that involves allies cannot focus on taking care of those allies; so is the community something allies are looking in on from the outside? Or is the activism just made of people who belong to other communities?

That latter makes sense to me. I don’t think one’s primary community can safely be centered in activism. Because then your worth as a person relies on how much you’re sacrificing — constantly.

If you’re not sacrificing, you’re not helping the cause, if you’re not helping the cause, that’s maybe reasonable to be considered a sub-par activist at that time.

But if your activism is tied to your worth in your core community? Then that’s about who you are. And tying who you are and how much value you have as a human being to how much you’re willing to put yourself in danger is at best unsustainable, and when demanded ultimately is abusive.

And there are people who are energized by activism and energized by their own influence and those people can benefit from putting down others who don’t have the energy, who may also be marginalized, whose lives like everyone else’s are complicated. And that’s a problem within activism, that I think just amplifies in toxicity if it is part of community.

Community cannot be about ranking who is suffering most and therefore is always right. Nor really can activism, in my opinion; it’s more like “those who are suffering most have a unique perspective that is very worth listening to above those who have not experienced said things.” And suffering most as an individual also isn’t even the right wording for that, because there are people who are very marginalized but confident and assertive and maybe aren’t suffering at the moment; or people who are suffering outside of oppression and leverage the few spaces they have authority to enjoy the power of it.

And there is a difference between having more authority on an issue or the issues facing your demographic and being better at knowing all reality. Otherwise people within the same marginalized groups would not have polar opposite opinions on what would best help them, yet they do.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about how both activists and people who hate activists will put people down for being emotionally sensitive.

And when you’re trying to accomplish a goal or someone is a guest among oppressed people, that makes sense.

But if this is your community? That doesn’t make sense at all.

More people should be able to stay emotionally sensitive if they want to. It’s not that more privileged people need to toughen up and stop feeling, or that oppressed people are incapable of being sensitive.

So maybe activists can form community, but I don’t think effective social activism itself can be a primary community. I think they get in the way of each other. Focusing on everyone’s personal feelings of safety and community gets in the way of accomplishing things and focusing on the primary group(s) harmed. Not allowing anyone outside those groups to have emotions is not a community, not in the sense of “these are my people, we love each other and build each other all up and are all here for each other.”

I think it’s scary to not have community that understands your experiences (or even their experiences) with oppression. But there are people who are not actively engaging in activism who understand. They can be found. It’s difficult. It takes time and it’s overwhelming. But there can be communities made of people who align their values with activists’ goals and your personal values, without being focused on activism themselves. I think that can be real and helpful.

I think a lot of the toxicity that can exist in social justice is bundling up community with activism.

What do you think?

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