Bear with me, because this is going to get autobiographical.
As a young, frail, impressionable child, I was exposed to a near lethal dose of lefty academia, multiculturalism and completely unsupervised– even unquestioned introspection and contemplation. Needless to say, I am a warped, depraved human being.
As a three-year-old on my way to day care, I interrogated my mother on how she would vote on Issue 1. When asked, I had to explain to her that this was a public transportation levy. As she tells it, after stating my opinion on the subject, I seamlessly resumed whining, on the verge of crying, about how much I wanted chocolate milk and sweet tarts. Several years later, when a republican gubernatorial candidate visited my elementary school, I announced to a crew of cameras that my parents did not vote for this man. If you’re wondering, yes, they aired it. Fast forward to age 10 when I started bending my blossoming gender into the shape of thrift store suits (I did not know this was a weird thing to do at the time), age 12 when I ate my last piece of meat, age 13 when I came out, age 15 when I got in a series of battles over censorship of art (I painted classically) and wrote some abysmal political poetry, age 17 where I started an internship at the local college QUILTBAG (it was just GLBTQ back in those days) center, and I’m skipping some things, but I think the thing that really changed everything was 9-11-01, that happened near the close of my tender 18th year of life.
You see, this was a vulnerable time for everyone. We were all stunned, looking for guidance, feeling helpless, small. This was also when I met the folks from Refuse and Resist. These older, cooler kids, in their hoodies and shitty homemade patches (and I mean that in the best way), with their serious, committed faces outlined with black bandanas, their awesome hair and penetrating gazes; they hustled us up into a group. They then told us tales of how this moment of violence was bound to cascade into a chain reaction of global proportions. This disaster meant an impending war and all the horrors you expect with it. We had to put ourselves and our bodies in the way to prevent it. I followed them to Washington D.C. and spent my 19th birthday holding a kitchen sink of field medic supplies and assorted escape plans while wearing a ridiculous looking sandwich sign that said “Our Grief is Not a Cry for War” and it remains the single best birthday of my life. When I say that this ruined me, I must explain that these people taught me how to crystallize tear gas, sever police zip ties, un-arrest a person, create administrative problems for misbehaving police and a score of other things that made them, to me, look like fucking superheroes. They were the coolest people I had ever met; cooler than anyone I could even imagine and I wanted so much to be like them. I wanted their experience, their knowledge, their fashion and, most of all, their cred.
From there I went on to do some pretty cool shit. I went (and stayed) full strict vegan and embarked on a few other lifelong boycotts. I worked on a middle east peace project while living with mennonites. I worked to repatriate Native American graves and met some of the most respected leaders in the various nations. I did an exhaustive cross analysis of the major investment companies that owned more than 1% in all of the major media conglomerates. I was chased by police in golf carts and threatened personally with bodily injury by rich white men. I tutored high school seniors that were struggling to graduate. I was photographed by a half dozen different cops leaning out of their cars and making no attempts to conceal their actions while I was peacefully protesting the Iraq war in business-casual clothes (I have no idea what they did with these photographs, but I’m sure it was bad). I walked ~40 miles in one day with buddhists on a pilgrimage for disarmament. I helped kids with learning and physical differences get through college. I worked with a number of major human rights organizations. I babysat at a domestic violence shelter. There were many things.
Now that I’m fairly awesome by my 18-year-old standards, I sometimes catch myself looking around at inexperienced folk and turning up my nose at their assorted versions of activism, because they don’t get it, they’re not invested enough, their methods are not legit. With the popularity of social media, this has started to become a thing. And then I realized that I am an asshole. I am a motherfucking emotional nutsack hipster who wants moral superiority. I want to be the good guy. I want to be the absolute rightest. I want my character to be unimpeachable and I want everyone who tries to impeach me to automatically be deemed a piece of shit. I want to be so “with it” that I never have to research again; I can just somehow sense the right thing to do and the truth of any particular situation. I want to rescue and steward the adoring youngins. I want to make all the intellectuals swoon as they gaze upon my brave and worldly ass and I did it all, at least in part, because it was cool, and so did you, so fucking hold up a mirror in front of your face and peep that shit. And yes, it is cool for the right reasons; the value of things is almost in the right place. Nevertheless, I strongly advise you to come with me so that we may begin to dismantle our activist personality disorders, which I guarantee that we have.
This will undoubtedly be a series of many parts. Here is today’s homework, take the following oaths if you have the guts:
Whenever I start to feel moral/intellectual superiority or seniority to other activists, I will ask myself how much better the world has gotten when left to my trusty guidance.
Whenever I feel the urge to devalue someone’s contribution to a cause, I will first examine of what value my devaluation is to the cause. I will make my best attempt to envision in what regards this unqualified criticism will create any kind of forward momentum for the movement to which I claim great, unselfish devotion.
And if you’re not retching and cursing your own existence yet, don’t fucking worry, because there is much more to come on this.