Activism, Crankiness, & Enthusiasum

This piece was partly inspired by the awesome work of Scott Turner Schofield.

Tomorrow I’m going to be handing out flyers delineating Chick Fil A’s anti LGBTQ donations to people waiting in line for one of their restaurants to open. If you’re in Appleton, feel free to come by the line outside Chick Fil A around 4PM to cheer us on, make a donation, or help hand out flyers.

I don’t feel particularly strongly about this boycott, because I’ve never had Chick Fil A & don’t care to, and because I think the whole corporate overlord / factory farming monolith is heinous in general, but I met a new, young activist who was inspired to act so I got involved. A lot of times I do so to make sure no one gets hurt; to make sure the action or protest is appropriate for its audience; and to make sure, too, that a young activist full of fire becomes empowered. It’s one of the ways, as an older activist, I can do the work without always having to storm the castle myself.

If you don’t have a younger mentor to teach you, you get old and bitter fast, anyway. My knowledge and caution benefits him; his enthusiasm and energy benefits me. Win-win.

What I’m thinking about today, however, is how much lateral hostility or general crankiness there is within activist circles, and specifically within LGBTQ ones, so I want to offer a little advice because I have seen myself do some of these things in the past and they were not best practice nor my best self.

When another member of your activist community wants to do a thing and you think it’s unimportant or inessential, you don’t have to volunteer. You also really shouldn’t be down on the person or the event or the cause: you can just say “My plate’s too full right now” or “not my kinda gig” to excuse yourself from having to participate.

What you don’t have to say is: “but there’s so many things to do and why are you doing this?” or “this isn’t important (implied, to me) so it should be to you” or “it won’t make a difference so why bother?” Apathy is more infectious than anything, and it lets people off the hook.

I say all this as a cranky, older activist who has a tendency toward eyerolling someone else’s enthusiasm and energy; some of that, perhaps, is organic to now being 50, but it’s also something to work against – no matter how organic it is. It is very easy right now to look at the world and not know where to begin, or what might make the greatest impact; I find, in general, that activists are often only working on their own cause, holding onto decision making power when it comes to money, and lacking the ability to support other people – usually people with less power in a system that’s benefitting you – to do what they do.

In future, when someone says “boycott chick fil a” you might, instead, want to say, “not my gig but go do the thing.” Or ask why the person putting so much time and energy into something is doing what they do. Similarly, you can find a thing, instead, that inspires me: start that fundraiser on FB.

When I first started doing this work – advocacy or activism or whatever you want to call it – I’d get roundly criticized or come up against general malaise and feel like shit for a week. What I learned to do was ask myself, “what have they done?” and more often than not I found a lot of criticism comes from people on the sidelines who are not doing a damn thing, who never put themselves in a position to be criticized or censured, and who don’t, in general, show up.

So for all of you activists out there who are well aware of how much criticism you can get just by speaking out or planning an event, fuck ‘em. Until you’re being criticized by people who do as much as you do, please tell the keyboard warriors to show up or shut up.

Everything counts; everything matters. Supporting others who are doing things even when you can’t is far more important than letting your own guilt or shame cause you to criticize anyone trying to make a difference.

I’m writing a lot more on my experiences with activism and advocacy on Patreon, and in the new book.