The Anatomy of an Activist: Part One
Upon completion of my graduate program, I was excited to be done, but was equally excited and nervous to know that I wasn’t truly done. I knew that a lot more work had to be done, and none of it had to deal with credits, diplomas or assignments. I was now free to do the most meaningful work. But as I got closer to completing the degree program, I couldn’t help but think about the somewhat universal B-Side realities of being called for activism.
Activism is broad in application, but the symptoms that activists often experience are often homogeneous. There is nothing more important than when a person puts themselves in second place behind the thirst to see dire change. Whether you are a classroom teacher with an emancipatory pedagogy, a community organizer working for a non-profit, a church member advocating for their neighborhood needs, or a person dedicated to the #BlackLivesMatter movement beyond the hashtag, you experience similar patterns of how your sacrifices affect your personal universe. You understand that every individual on our planet is the center of a concentric circle, and as you put your center-circle energies into the ether to improve the out layers of the circle (family, community, region, country, and the world), you all have similar consequences by doing so.
What’s in threat of collapsing in that center while attempts to fortify the other parts of the concentric circle are made? Is it day-job efficiency? Is it family solidarity? Is it spiritual health? Is it mental health? Physical health? Is it the optimism that told you that your efforts will yield fruit? Is it other passions and talents that you want to exercise? Your conviction has prompted conscription. Conscription for a war for your particular cause, and you are dealing with the potential repercussions of it. The identification and cultivation of your purpose is 700 miles past the Romanticization phase, and the ugliness of the work and its effect can’t be mascara’d up or contoured up with a fist in the air or a Che Guevara poster.
Huey P. Newton mentions this phenomenon in his text Revolutionary Suicide. I often wonder how necessary this phenomenon is. How often is the self-inflicted over-extension of an activist have to deal with this fist-pumping hubris that tells them “If I’m not the one to do this specific task, who else could possibly get the job done?” How often is activism used as a mechanism to escape focusing on the troubling elements and problems of the self? How can the fledgling apple tree seed the whole orchard? How often is activism not optimized when bickering activist factions, organizations, associations, and cliques get petty over social numerators and undervalue identical core value denominators? How often are unnecessary and unspoken pissing contests taking place between orgs or personalities about who’s putting in more work? How does simply being a good dude or good woman alone get underestimated as an activist act?
Not one thing constructed by humans in society would exist if it wasn’t for a question. Questions are the atoms of all thought and action. These questions can help us understand the anatomy of the activist.