“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” – Dr. Cornel West
I think of myself as a hopeful pessimist. I don’t think things will turn out alright. I don’t believe in the milk of human kindness. I don’t think we collectively learn from history. But I always hope to be proven wrong.
As 2016 begins, a saddening inevitability of the next 12 months is that we’ll see and hear plenty about avoidable suffering, pain, and injustice. Which puts us in dire need of people who look at the unfairness of our world and decide, as Angela Davis once said, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
However, such behaviour often fails to pierce common consensus, pegged as something for people with nothing better to do who like complaining all the time. Supposed “normal people” get married, have children, get a steady job, and have little time for such nonsense like occupying public space with placards, or irritating commuters, asking them to sign your petition.
But the truth is activism – when done right – isn’t a symptom of having too much time on your hands, being a killjoy, or manufacturing problems that don’t exist. It’s love actualised.
When I say love, this shouldn’t conjure fluffy images of mawkish pop music, sunny meadows, or forced politeness towards those who treat you without respect. You can’t positive-think your way out of oppression.
I mean love in the way it’s described by Yasmin Mohamed Yonis: “Love is hard work, it is a commitment every day, it is doing what is necessary to make sure the other person is ok. My father somehow took care of a family of 12+ on a taxi cab driver’s salary and studied by a lamp’s light every night. My mother raised 10 children in a country hostile to their very existence with nothing but pure wit and strength. So I learned early on that love must manifest in actions.”
“Love ain’t just something you say, just this word. It’s something you do.” – Emteaz Hussain
And it’s something you have to keep doing. A constant process of renewal. Listen to almost any interview with tennis player, Rafael Nadal. He’s won 14 Grand Slam titles, 9 French Opens, and is the greatest clay court player of all time. Yet despite his legendary status, he talks about trying to improve so often that’s it’s almost become his catchphrase.
In a just world, I’d talk about little else than the merits of David Tennant’s and Matt Smith’s incarnations of The Doctor, whether The New Day are the best thing to happen to pro-wrestling, or wax rhapsodic about that magic over from Andrew Flintoff in the 2005 Ashes. It’s fine to live well. But your enjoyment should never come at the expense or erasure of those who are unfairly marginalised. As Sam Ambreen wrote; “It’s not about me.”
The point of activism is to create a world where the only thing preventing someone achieving their goals is natural talent and work ethic. It’s to ensure everyone gets to have a go on life’s fairground rides, rather than having a “you must be this white/male/cis/straight/thin/able-bodied/fluent in English/wealthy/educated” sign to keep people out.
Activism isn’t for the purpose of PR, boosting one’s ego, or public profile. A recent post on Race Reflections observed; “The most important social justice work has always been done by the communities directly affected by the injustices they were fighting against.”
It’s also not a cudgel to be used against those with limited resources. Aaminah Khan (@jaythenerdkid) elucidated further: “Asking, say, a bed-bound person with a disability to go outside and attend a rally if they want to be counted amongst “real” activists is shamefully ableist. Expecting people with anxiety disorders, depression, diverse neurotypes or other conditions that limit their social energy and capacity for interpersonal interaction to go door-to-door for donations if they want to call themselves activists is disgustingly ignorant.”
SIGN PETITION: We will not stand by when UN soldiers abuse, rape and murder
Kyriarchy is a beast with numerous tentacles. They can’t be removed with a singular approach. A parent who informs their child that “gay” is not a synonym for “bad” is performing activism. A teacher who eschews parroting a curriculum drenched in imperialist rhetoric is performing activism. Being a guy who doesn’t tolerate their male friends making rape jokes is performing activism.
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. It means giving a shit when the majority choose not to. It means being cognisant of others pain, and trying to locate the genesis of said pain to make it cease. Activism isn’t assuaging guilt by donating money, but discerning the root causes to understand why some are in need of donations. It’s, as bell hooks said, “…a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust.”
“Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.” – James Baldwin
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably in a minority who endeavour for better. But society’s current factory settings are set to selfishness and greed. Lecturing on personal responsibility, while ignoring collective responsibility. If activists seem angry to you, it’s because they know that collectively, this isn’t the best we can do. Not even close. That’s why this work is both exhausting and essential.
You’ll notice that I’ve referenced numerous other people in this piece. That’s because activism is a team sport. Dr. Martin Luther King, Marsha P. Johnson, Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandela – their extraordinary work wasn’t achieved alone. Progress is only attained through co-operation and inclusion for everyone.
“I think we face a very interesting question right now”, Brianna Wu recently postulated, “Is mankind going to stay as we are? Reflexively cruel and mean to any group we treat poorly in ways we’d rather not think about? Or are we going to evolve as a species? I honestly don’t know what the answer will be. But I know I have to try to get there.”
“Love reveals us. Profoundly and unnervingly, love reveals us.” – Junot Diaz
What would justice look like – or variants of it – is a common question raised in activist circles. Which is another way of pondering how does everyone get a fair chance to be happy?
Last February, The Body Narratives (founded by Hana Riaz) held an event that featured poetry from Amaal Said and Belinda Zhawi, with live music from Big Joanie. After the event concluded, chairs were being cleared away, and Beyonce’s 7/11 came on the speakers. Suddenly numerous women of colour took up the space vacated by the chairs to dance to “King Bey”.
For a few minutes, the room was an oasis of unabashed glee and reverie. A space unchained from misogyny, misogynoir, and patriarchal judgement. This was the first time I had a tangible answer to the question; what kind of world do I want to live in? It’s a world where the joy I saw in that room is possible for all.
“Love liberates.” – Dr. Maya Angelou
SIGN PETITION: We will not stand by when UN soldiers abuse, rape and murder
 – Seriously, it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in sport.
 – Even if I have indulged in the karaoke of ideas.
 – The band’s lead singer Stephanie Phillips has been a contributor to this site.
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