Tag Archives: activist

“Now What?”

30 Jun

I frequently ask the question, “Now what?” especially when it comes to racial justice, climate change, and other GIANT issues that activists bring up. If there is something small and reasonable I can do, I’ll do it. But frequently the call to action is either “Be afraid,” “Be ashamed,” or “Be aware.”

One of my readers asked that same question of me – I brought up the history of Juneteenth and the problem of trying to love our country at the same time being aware of its sins. A lot of people have trouble with this. We prefer to think in terms of dichotomies; black-white, good-bad, right-wrong. But real life doesn’t work that way. Real life has contradictions, injustice, trade-offs… and that’s uncomfortable.

Let’s talk about climate change. No, there is too much, let me talk about water pollution instead. Let’s say you’re a paper mill in Eastern Oregon. You produce waste product which is most conveniently dumped into the Columbia River. The EPA regulates the amount of waste you can dump into the river, but if you fish salmon out of that river, that may be putting too much toxic chemicals into the fish… which means it’s unsafe to eat.

Okay, at this point, you have to ask yourself, “Why not eat chicken?” That’s one option. But let’s say, you’re one of the multiple native tribes that live in that area for which a) salmon is part of your culture and b) we’re rather poor and need an cheaper protein source. Many of your tribal members AND neighbors also need the work that the paper mill provides. “Now what?”

The answer is “get involved.” To which I would answer, “I’ve got a life, I don’t have time, I don’t want to dedicate my life to this. I just want cleaner fish.” That’s why protests tend to be filled with young people. (I’m still not sure who sits outside courthouses waiting for rulings.) But there’s a variety of levels of involvement – if you’re not willing to march, write letters to the company, to your legislatures. Sure, they’ll mostly be ignored, but sheer numbers will get attention even to the most jaded folks. Reach out to the media. Jump on social media. Trust me, you don’t need to spend more than 15 minutes a week doing this. Anyone can slice off that amount of time.

For example, during the COVID shutdown, I wrote my legislators every week calling to end the shutdown. I knew they weren’t reading it, but someone in their office might be ticking my name next to a box. Trust me, when it was the only issue anyone was talking about, politicians want to know. If you repeat the message enough, people will hear. You don’t have to be angry about it, you don’t have to be impolite, you just have to be consistent.

Now here comes the hard part; be willing to compromise. As Americans, our finest asset is holding two contradictory opinions at the same time. (Don’t believe me? Polls say that many people who are pro-life are also pro-death penalty.) So let’s apply that to other parts of our life. We want clean water AND paper mills. Can we dump the waste water into containment pool? Can the state share the cost for a better filtering system? Can we make the paper company look good by supporting an environmental initiative?

In the end, remember – you are not powerless. You also don’t have infinite time. Be willing to provide as little as you can and embrace ambiguity. No… it doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker (maybe two bumper stickers), and it sucks as a call to action. But it has the advantage of being honest – and nowadays – that’s the most powerful element of all.

Are There More Female Activists?

25 May

I’ve been using lots of protest pictures in my posts lately and my brother-in-law asked me, “I can’t help but notice almost all of the protestors in those pictures are women. Is that just a coincidence?” Interesting question–is it?

So I tried to find a picture that showed a wide number of protesters clearly (not easy). The above is a BLM protest in NYC (June 14th, 2020) and… yep. I’m seeing three women for every man. That could just be that there are more women liberals than men. So let’s try the opposite side.

Here’s one from the January 5, 2021 D.C. protests (the day before the storming of the capitol building). I’m seeing about three men for every woman. My first attempt–the April 15, 2020 protests in front of the Michigan State House–was ten men to every woman.

So it seems that liberal activists tend to be women–so let’s ask, why is that?

[I’m willing to accept that I’m completely and utterly wrong about what I type next. If you would like to disagree (politely) in the comments, I welcome being proven wrong.]

1. Women process information differently then men. Women tend to attach many different parts of information to the same fact. So climate change gets attached to social justice gets attached to food sovereignty gets attached to holistic health. In a woman’s mind, there might be no difference between justice and health food. In a man’s mind, facts are isolated–you might be emotional about them, but climate change is different than social justice. So women are far more willing to see systemic injustice against their beliefs and want to do something about it.

2. Women are less likely to be beaten up. It’s easy to protest when you know you can’t be harmed. When men get aggressive with other men, it’s easier to pull the trigger. Men are taught “it’s never right to hit a woman,” so if you’re a cop, are you likely to beat the crap out of a woman attacking you or simply restrain them?

3. Women are less interested in a paycheck than a cause. Don’t get me wrong, we all like money, but more women go into teaching and nursing then men; professions that traditionally pay worse. So if you’re going into teaching, you do it to “make a difference.” Since most teachers quit after five years (myself included), I would assume that most women decide to make a difference elsewhere.

4. Women in a relationship are more able to pursue a cause, because their partner is paying the bills. It’s easier to protest in the streets if you don’t have to work a job. With notable exceptions, men are expected to be the bread-winner, and that traditionally frees women up to be the caregiver. But as we’re having less kids, what do you fill that time up with?

So… there’s my theories — what do you think? Do you have a better answer? Let me know in the comments below! Then if you want a more gender-equal future, read about it in one of my books. However, if you don’t have the money since you’re too busy protesting social change, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. 🙂

Moral Equivalency of War

11 Jan

We use the term “hero” too much, along with “battle” and “war,” to talk about things that are none of those things. Are we really fighting the good fight?

William James have a speech a hundred years ago at Yale University called “the Moral Equivalency of War,” talking about the idea of using the language of war that gives people the sense that they are feeling as if they are soldiers, so that they see the moral rightness of their position.

After all, it’s one thing to say, “We’re fighting climate change,” it’s far more appealing to say, “We’re fighting to face the Earth!” It feels like a righteous crusade instead of just a cause.

The problem is that it’s been overused. Every election is the most important election of our time. Every issue is a fight against evil. When everything is so damn important, then you start to feel that nothing is important. The reason why every day is not Arbor Day is because if it is, then… Well, it’s just a day.

What I learned when I ran for office (10 years ago, third party, got 8% of the vote) is that everyone has an opinion and everyone has a cause. Just one. You might say you care about everything, but we only have one thing you’re passionate about. There’s only so much “give a damn” in our lives and you have to focus it. If you choose to raise the banner for one issue, there’s a thousand other issues you don’t have time for.

My cynicism is showing, I’ll admit it, because I’ve been burned before. I marched in parades, in political rallies, ran for office, and I can’t even say I believe the same things I protested for anymore. If you’re willing to fight for what you believe in, so you can change the world, go ahead… But accept that it’s going to take a long time and it might take your whole life to accomplish it.

Take the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution, passed in 1991, actually proposed in the Bill of Rights in 1790. A college student thought it was still a good idea (any pay raise that Congress votes itself doesn’t go into effect until the next election), wrote it in a class paper, and got a C. However, that became his cause, and spent the next ten years convincing state legislatures to ratify it. That was his life. He succeeded – but he got lucky.

How long are you willing to fight for your cause? How much time are you willing to spend to change the world? Are you willing to give up your career, a family, and friends just to accomplish it? I guess I’m in awe of those who do, at the same time, understanding what they had to do to achieve it. They fought the good fight, but like any veteran, they bear the scars of what they sacrificed.

Do you have an activist you admire? Would you really want to meet them in real life? Share your person in the comments below!

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