by Jorge Dante Hernandez Prosperi
Activism is said to be the dynamic force of change. The word can used to describe an individual (activist), as well as a process (activism). Che Guevara said that it is a form of pure and selfless love, as it asks nothing in return.
However, being an activist and activism should mean more than 'promoter and promotions.' It must go beyond today¹s semblance of 'images and imaging', and it must go beyond entertain the notion of and event but rather an ongoing process.
Although this world has had activists and activism throughout its history, the concept took center stage during the infamous 60's. The art, music, and turbulent events of the times brought the concept to the forefront. It is my contention that it was during the 1960s and through the 1970s that the term, by certain segments of our population, began to become synonymous with anti-establishment, revolution, communism, black insurrection, unionism, hippie culture, drug culture, and anything/everything else that spoke of difference from the status quo. It is interesting to observe contemporary institutions that proclaim having fought off the influences of such an era. I wonder if this is a self-indulging compliment or an apologetic regret.
Certainly, history shares with us countless examples of those who because of their activism lost their personal freedom and lives. While many of the most world-renowned activists's share the historical center stage, countless individuals become activists and are involved without ever considering themselves to be one. Such individuals become involved because of the common thread that connects all activists and the process of activism A Cause. Most times, it is an isolated cause. By this, I mean a cause that come to the attention of the activist-to-be by way of a personal connection and/or relationship. What occurs is that there is awareness, a heightened sense of urgency, a need to correct a current condition or issue that requires attention, a promise or document that speaks of one problem but is not respected nor honored. Such circumstances lead to a time when more assertive language, behavior, insistence, and/or resistance begin to evolve. What is clear, to the acknowledged or unacknowledged activist, is that something is wrong or unjust and needs to made right and just.
The problem that arises, from my perspective, is that most activists and the form of activism that they generate are often tied to a highly personal isolated cause. The following examples may best demonstrate what is meant by the isolated cause.
A colleague often shares with me materials regarding "Animal Rights." The articles and information regarding such a cause are endless and most of them quite interesting. The most significant message is: [animal (an i mal) n. a living being, capable of feeling.] Ergo, be kind, be just, be aware, be giving, be compassionate, be donating, be adopting, and be for their being. The only concern I have with this animal activist is that upon approaching the topic of Diversity, Multiculturalism, and inclusion, her ears, eyes, heart, mind and soul shut down. She refuses to consider any conversation having to do with race, discrimination, and bias. As she says, "At least animals never deal with negative subjects."
Another isolated activist is very much into raising funds, walking, writing, and requesting of others to get involved in the fight against AIDS. The efforts to get people involved in his cause are relentless. To walk at his elbow during marches and to donate funds has never been a problem. However, before the last march, I introduced the fact that perhaps some of the effort and money should be going to Africa where there is an incredible need in the fight against AIDS. It did not take long to discover that his activism was centered on the efforts in Detroit not Africa. He explained that he had already too much to ponder with just getting people to sign up for the local cause. As I clarified his activism, he also did not want to walk with me into any discussion about Diversity, Multiculturalism, and/or inclusion. It seems that such words to him meant sharing a classroom with children with learning disabilities, as he had to do as a child. His parents and he felt that such children got all of the attention via special services and that he paid the price by not having anyone pay attention to his needs.
Several years ago another example of isolated activism occurred when a mother of a high school girl forced the administration of a local public school to notice that her daughter was practicing volleyball at six o¹clock in the morning because the boys basketball team needed the gym after school. She also noticed that while the boy's football team had received new uniforms, none of the girls¹ teams had received any for quite some time. The case made the local TV and newspapers. Quickly the girls¹ teams of that school received new uniforms, they stopped practicing at six a.m. and a rotating schedule for practices was established. It was also interesting to note that the school that the girl attended had also been cited in the news for having had the very few students of color on the team and some of the maintenance personnel receiving hate mail left on their lockers and cars. In this case, it was the parents of the students of color who were the activists and were talking to reporters about the lack of dialogue, sensitivity, programs, and awareness. Two sets of parents and students two sets of activists in the same school each with their own cause for which to fight but neither offering support or acknowledgement of the other.
The last example has to do with my thirty two years of experience as a Spanish teacher which involved participating in a vast number of Foreign language Teaching/Learning professional organizations, conferences, institutes, and workshops. The discussions were often filled with literary analysis. I remember debating the critical significance of whether a poet should have used the subjunctive or the conditional tense within the confines of a poem. Another enlightening lecture centered on a professor who had spent time analyzing the significance of Sancho Panza riding a burro rather than Rocinante, which his master Don Quijote proudly rode. But I discovered that my well read compadres would carpool it out of the lecture hall whenever asked to discuss the victimization and genocide that had taken place at the hands of the Spanish explorers and conquistadores.
My concern with activists who are driven by isolated causes is that often the passion, energy, and process is vertical in nature and does not connect with a greater horizontal awareness. Isolated causes run the risk of having a beginning, process, and quick resolution. Isolated causes also are focused on a limited perspective.
The problem when we center on isolated causes is that we lose sight of what I feel is the central focus that must be maintained. Such focus always must center on the core values, the guiding principles, and ideals that have been established. Such ideals in our country are based around democracy, pursuit of the truth, and justice. All three of these concepts are ever present and excellent lenses by which to view activism.
Another concern with isolated causes is that the isolation could be as finite as one human being taking care of his/her child. Nothing wrong with taking care of one¹s own, but each resolution for each individual cause does contain the power of influencing others to achieve a solution or resolution that can go far beyond one individual. There is a desperate need in our country, and particularly in our schools, to be aware of the greater picture and the greater good. Our association with the human condition connects all of us.
To fight for the rights and well being of animals but ignore human rights - to fight for a daughter¹s uniform but ignore the problems of the girls of color who also wear them - to walk for AIDS but not remember all of AIDS victims - to deal with the Spanish culture from a literary point of view and avoid discussions of the murder and horrifying victimization of millions of indigenous people- is to run up and down a vertical continuum that ignores not only the plight of other human beings, but misses the premise and the foundation that are the core of activism.
Activism requires an awareness of the legacy of victimization, its components, and an ever-present vigilance on any form of current victimization
Most societal sins and victimization are
grounded on Social Identifiers/Qualifiers/Labelers. An understanding of
these begins the process of letting go of isolated causes as one can begin
to understand the natural connection between activism and victimization.
Such Social Qualifiers are:
Ability: learning process, learning differences, social, psychological, emotional, and physical attributes issues of access, accommodations, inclusion, services
Age: chronological, developmental, generational stagesSocial Identifiers are fueled by Social Malignancies. The Social Malignancies are learned starting the first day that mom brings us home from the hospital. A societal curriculum keeps the fires burning. The Social Identifiers are:
BiasesSocial Identifiers and Social Malignancies are the enemy of activists. Regardless of the circumstances and causes, they are the targets.
Activists that are involved for short spurts of time in isolated causes are defined by the following characteristics.
The temporary activist is thrown into the process by a set of circumstances that need to be addressed rather than by choice and design.
To become a visionary activist is a matter of understanding that we are part of a "living history" some of which must never be repeated; a history that must be discussed and constantly evaluated.
Activism is not an event or a single lighting bolt. To treat it as such is to be left with only with patches of scorched earth and smoke. Activism is a matter of dealing with an ongoing process a process fueled by realistic idealism, love, and courage.
Perhaps one day we will reach a time when activism becomes a concept associated only with a memory of a time when to be a human being was not necessarily associated with having achieved humanness.
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