I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately, as it seems that every time I turn around, I learn about some issue, event or decision that simultaneously angers and deflates me. Some examples:
- the continuing saga of the long form census cancellation (when the Chief Statistician resigns, you know things are bad)
- the fact that all skilled immigrants who want to settle in Canada have to take an expensive (and expansive) English proficiency test… regardless of how long they’ve been in the country, how long they’ve been working here, or whether or not English is their native language
- the fact that Conrad Black (sociopath extraordinaire) is granted bail and heads to his multi-million-dollar estate in Palm Beach, while Byron Sonne (G20 protester) languishes behind bars, having been denied bail for reasons the public, apparently, does not have the right to know
- the fact that our next Mayor may very well be the most useless one we’ve ever had
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me that most of the items on the above list can be traced back to a decision or decisions made by the Harper government. However, blaming the Harper government entirely is too simplistic for me: not only does it afford them far too much power, and deny the agency of everyday citizens, it also just doesn’t get to the root of the issue at hand: which is, what do you do when it seems like your world is heading – wholly and completely – in a direction that you find really, really disturbing? What do you do when you feel powerless to stop it?
Most people would suggest activism as the answer. And, by “activism”, they usually mean “protest”. But, I don’t know that protests are as effective as the people who participate in them think they are, or would like them to be. Mightygodking made this point earlier today (and damn him for beating me to my own idea!). While I agree that the protest movement, as it stands now, isn’t likely to achieve any of their concrete objectives any time soon, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that protests don’t work, period. I actually think that protests – by which I mean legitimate protests, not the ones that are thinly veiled excuses for violence – are quite useful for raising awareness, creating allies, and strengthening one’s convictions. That being said, I would never participate in one. In addition to not liking crowds, or loud people, or… you know, people in general, protests are just not “me”. As a naturally quiet and introverted person, I’ve always felt that, just because you’re yelling and screaming, it doesn’t mean you’re being heard. But in that case, what’s a lefty-socialistic-bleeding-heart-tree-hugging-softie to do?
In my more optimistic moments, I like to think that activism can come in all forms and from all corners and, in fact, should come in all forms and from all corners. For instance, I’m an academic. I work at a university, that great ivory bastion of patriarchy, racism, and colonialism, as well as your average, run-of-the-mill exclusivity and elitism. Yet, the work I do is expressly concerned with interrupting cycles of oppression, and calling attention to the institutional forms of discrimination that are the basis of our society. These politics are in everything I teach, everything I research, everything I write. Still, can what I do really be considered activism? If so, is it effective? If it’s not activism…
then what is?
I’ve just remembered something: soon after I started grad school, I half-jokingly said to my friends and family that, if I wasn’t careful, they (meaning the institution where I got my Master’s and Ph.D.) would turn me into an activist. At the time, I understood “activist” to refer solely to someone who was loud, angry and zealous. Huh. I wonder what the person I was back then would think about who I am now…