a guest post from Julie Rage Lalonde, originally posted as a Facebook note
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am an intense person, yes, but I laugh at funerals, use sarcasm when I probably shouldn’t and really do believe in a silver lining.
If you know me well you also know that there is no room in my life for religion or even much of spirituality, either. I call myself agnostic, but really I’m apathetic and really over all discussions of the sort. It just doesn’t interest me in the slightest.
I say all this because the following might seem incredibly out of character but it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.
I am deeply concerned about activism in my community lately and rather than complain about it, I want to make a call for a better environment and see who is interested.
I’ve been doing activism in an official capacity for about 8 years. Like most people, I’ve done things that would constitute activism for much of my life, but it’s only been since I’ve lived in Ottawa that I’ve made a concerted effort to do activism and to identify it as such. The overwhelming majority of my work has centered around womyn’s lives and in particular, violence against womyn, access to abortion and equity in education.
I’ve previously written at length about my feminism and how I came to do the work that I do now, so I won’t get into that.
My issue is that the environment in which I do my activism has become ugly and I have really struggled with how to deal with it.
I know that I am a product of my environment but I am also part of my environment.
As activists, we are not car mechanics or meteorologists whose work is limited by the tools and physical structures available to us. We are the tools and structures. The only limits are our imagination.
So it is frustrating to see how people buy into the idea that we are tangible, objective entities rather than the subjects of our own doing. The rules that govern what we do or how we think are subjective and arbitrary.
There is absolutely no reason why we must treat each other the way we do.
Everyone I’ve ever known to have left the activist community, the feminist movement, social work, etc. did so because of the environment and their colleagues and not because of the actual work. Let me repeat this.
People whose jobs it is to listen to horrific stories, to support people who feel hopeless and to advocate for a better world in a political environment that is pessimistic and discouraging, end up leaving the work not because of their clients or because of their ‘enemy’ but because of their so-called allies.
This is often treated as fact; an inevitability.
By setting ourselves up in this way, we are doomed to fail again and again. And every time we do, the enemy wins. And I’m not okay with that.
There is no reason why we must treat each other this way.
I came into this world ‘whole’ and I intend to leave it the same way.
My mother is Native and an incredibly spiritual person. I deeply admire her for this. (The spirituality part, not the Native part. ‘Cause no offense, ma but you had no say in the other part!)
She believes that when someone is deeply hurt in their life, either as a child or an adult, they lose a part of their soul, a part of their ‘being’ and then spend the rest of their life looking for it.
I believe this.
I believe that most of the issues within activist communities stem from people who’ve experienced (or who currently experience) deep, deep pain. Whether that pain was because of the work they’re doing, or is part of the reason they started this work in the first place, they carry that pain with them. Because we’ve set activist communities up as ‘warrior spaces’ where nobody gives up, everybody does 110% and nobody admits defeat, people bury that pain. They bury that pain and bury that pain until they can’t anymore but when they lash out, it is to the nearest person; regardless of whether or not that person has caused them any pain.
As people who’ve spent years and years listening to horror stories of violence against womyn, we do not lash out at rapists, anti-choicers, politicians, or judges. We do not lash out at racist education systems, sexist media or ableist institutions.
We lash out at our comrades.
And this needs to stop.
I am not the least bit delusional about the fact that many activists are damaging to us. Many people who claim to be activists, myself included, have done things (or do things) that are racist, homophobic, ableist, etc. We all need to challenge each other in ways that are productive and about improving the situations and not simply about lashing out.
We need to remember that the enemy is not in the room.
I firmly believe in my heart of hearts that anyone who dedicates their life to ending violence, fighting for equitable education, fighting for access to clean water, etc. is an ally and someone who should be worked with, not against.
And so as things get uglier and uglier (and then better and then ugly again, as it goes), I question why I’m here, why I do what I do and whether it’s worth it.
I believe it is.
I do not believe that the revolution will cease without me or that it will fall apart. I believe that there will always be good people in this world who want to fight for a better one and who will step up and replace us all if/when we leave.
But this work is in my blood, it is a fabric of my being and I want to find a way to continue.
So this is what I’m proposing:
I want to build a movement based on the premise that anyone who joins does so in good conscience.
I want to build a movement that is a safe space for everyone, including those who have much to learn.
I want to build a movement that refuses all buzzwords, all lip service and all cliches. No more alienating people with academic language, no more preaching self-care but refusing to partake in it or demonizing those who do.
I want to build a movement that recognizes that just as survivors of violence and womyn who’ve had abortions deal with their lives in ways that are unique to them, so do activists. There is no ‘one way’ of doing activism. If you sign every petition and letter that comes across your inbox, hooray! If you march at every protest and raise your fist high, good on you! If you stuff envelopes and write letters behind the scenes, thank you! If you call out your co-workers at the water cooler and take on your racist grandpa at Christmas, you rock!
I want to build a movement that understands that sometimes, your organization is a business unlike any other. You just happen to be in the business of kicking ass and taking names. But you still need to spend time making sure you’ve crossed your Ts and dotted your Is. You need to be accountable to your stakeholders, you need to respect different forms of leadership and you need to know your role. A movement that understands that sometimes, you just gotta get the work done and not bog it down with checking up on everyone’s feelings and pussy footing around things that are ‘touchy’.
I want to build a movement that is optimistic, realistic and practical.
I want to build a movement that truly recognizes that womyn are equal, that we are strong and that we need not break down into tears to be heard. We are valuable because we exist and that is enough.
I want to build a movement that rejects martyrdom, embraces creativity and remembers ALL of Andrea Smith’s work (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Smith_%28academic%29). In particular, the parts where she calls out activists for creating a movement that is depressing, reactive and not focused on being proactive and engaged.
I want to build a movement that allows people to enter ‘whole’ and to exit with all their pieces intact.
You with me?