– by The Shitty Activist
Recent tragic—though, sadly, not uncommon—events inspired me to ask the question: can murder be considered a kind of activism? In particular, I’m referring to the horrific shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood on November 27, in which a gunman killed three and injured nine.
I hope it goes without saying that The Shitty Activist abhors violence towards other human beings and believes murder to be unethical.
Still, there are two questions worth asking: Can killing ever fall under the banner of activism? And are any causes automatically disqualified from being activist causes?
Let’s address the second question first, whether all causes can count as activism.
Though details are still sketchy, media reports quoted the 57 year-old Planned Parenthood gunman saying something about “baby parts” to investigators, which leads one to believe that his violent acts likely stemmed from anti-abortion views. [Even if the motive proves to be otherwise, there have been more than enough violent crimes committed by those opposed to abortion to make this a valid topic of discussion.]
So can those who oppose abortion consider themselves activists?
Some might point out that if you’re trying to control what other people do with their own bodies, then it’s no longer activism, but fascism. However, there’s a long history of activist movements that seek to determine what one can or cannot do with their bodies, including the temperance movement and the anti-smoking campaign. Right or wrong, right or left, the precedent has been set that activism can be about making other people do what you want with their own person.
Others may mention the hypocrisy of a pro-life movement that opposes aborting a fetus, yet ignores the death penalty and war. While this may or may not be true of pro-life activists, inconsistencies don’t prevent something from being an activist cause. It may limit its credibility and ultimate effectiveness, but shitty activism is still activism.
Then there are those who would insist that activism must “punch up,” as in only challenge established elements of the power structure.
Now, it’s true that the pro-life movement is almost exclusively associated with the right wing, which often stands for the status quo. However, one could argue that since abortion is currently legal—though barely, in some states, and in constant jeopardy on the federal level—that the pro-choice camp is actually the entrenched one. Which would mean that the pro-life movement is the underdog, making it valid for them to employ activism to communicate their message.
So, having determined that the anti-abortion movement is a bona fide activist movement, the question is now whether violence is a legitimate activist tactic (not whether or not it’s ethical). And the answer comes down to how you define activism.
As I see it, the heart of activism involves ordinary people without any institutionally-sanctioned power or influence, uniting to send an ideological message about something in society that needs to change. Using this definition, politicians can’t be activists, though many of them act that way (which some would argue distorts the role of government). Police can’t be activists either, unless they’re protesting someone who has power over them, such as a police chief.
But if activism is only about sending a message, then what about a boycott? Doesn’t taking money away from a corporation go beyond the realm of simple ideas?
The reality of most boycotts is that the financial damage has rarely been enough to shut down the offending company. Instead, the boycott is usually a tactic to call attention to the message behind the campaign.
Okay, but what about vandalism and sabotage, such as the “Green Scare” in the early 2000’s, where a handful of eco-vandals were rounded up by the FBI and labeled the nation’s number one domestic terrorist threat. One of these acts of vandalism involved burning down a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) horse corral, where the government would keep wild horses rounded up from public lands for slaughter and sale. Another involved setting fire to a laboratory that propagated genetically engineered trees.
One could argue that these acts of sabotage were committed in hopes of stopping the roundup of wild horses or the growing of genetically engineered trees. But it’s doubtful that the perpetrators believed that setting fire to a particular horse corral would stop the BLM from rounding up any more horses, or that burning down one laboratory would put an end to GE trees. Sure, the vandalism sought to cause economic damage, but its main goal was probably to call public attention to practices that much of the general public were unaware of.
For instance, before you read the last two paragraphs, were you aware that the BLM rounded up wild horses from public lands? Or that there even were wild horses on public lands? How about genetically engineered trees? Did you know that was a thing?
While The Shitty Activist doesn’t advocate illegal activity, I’d argue that vandalism that seeks to call public attention to a largely unknown issue is a form of activism. A criminal act, of course, but still activism.
Because the goal of activism, I’d argue, is to shift public consciousness. If an action is taken that raises awareness and promulgates ideas, then it’s activism. Of course, activism can and often does spur all sorts of real world actions, such as legislation. But at that point, is it still activism? (I’m uncertain about this aspect and would love to hear how other activists define the term.)
Which brings us to the awful Planned Parenthood shooting. Did the shooter really think that killing three people would stop abortion in the U.S.? No matter how insane the man may be, he probably didn’t think that one day of murder would put an end abortion.
So, he was probably trying to send a message. But what message was that? Simply that he didn’t agree with abortion? Did he really think that far from unique message would change people’s minds? Or spur the following dialogue?
Person 1: “Hey, did you hear about that murderer who doesn’t like abortion?”
Person 2: “I sure did, and you know what, now that I think about it, he makes a great point.”
Not likely, right?
Because abortion isn’t some obscure topic that has fallen through the cracks of public discourse, like wild horse roundups or GE trees. Instead, it’s one of the most high-profile political battles in the country, with many politicians on either side of the aisle making their stances the foundation of their careers.
It’s clear that the Planned Parenthood gunman’s message wasn’t: “Have you heard about abortion? It’s bad!” Though, I’d argue that he did have a message. And that message seemed to be: “If you get an abortion, someone might kill you.”
At that point, it’s no longer an intellectual discussion confined to the realm of ideas and pure consciousness. Nor is it an act by the powerless against the powerful. It’s simply a violent threat. Which makes it terrorism. Or even war.
Call it what you like, whatever it is, it sure as hell isn’t activism.