[Below is a guest post from an anonymous Democrat who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.]
– by Anonymous Democrat
As a lifelong Democrat and long-time activist for social justice and environmental causes, I’d like to explain to you why I voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.
If you’re like many of my friends, you’re wondering why I crossed party lines to join the surprisingly high percentage of Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton’s much-reviled opponent.
It’s a great question and I promise to be honest with my answer. However, before I do so, I want to share some of my politics with you so you can’t dismiss me as simply a right wing conservative in disguise.
– by The Shitty Activist
Lots of activists across the country are pissed off by how long it took authorities to deal with the group of armed cattle ranchers occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge visitor center.
They point to a history of swift and often brutal force used by authorities against leftist movements such as Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, and other campaigns too numerous to count over the decades.
Activists are outraged at the hypocrisy of the beating, tear-gassing, pepper-spraying, and rubber-bulleting of unarmed, peaceful protestors speaking out for causes that would benefit many, compared to the basically hands-off approach to those threatening actual violence against the U.S. government motivated by money-grubbing selfishness.
So what gives?
Some blame white privilege, calling out law enforcement’s seeming indifference to a gaggle of armed white men, compared to the almost routine fatal shootings of unarmed black men. And no doubt race is one reason for the discrepancy. But I don’t think it’s the only reason.
– 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.
– by The Shitty Activist
If you’re an activist, probably one of the most common complaints you get is that you’re not being “reasonable.” That you’re refusing to see the other side. That you won’t compromise and find common ground with opponents.
I’d like to propose that not only isn’t “unreasonable” activism a bad thing, it’s essential to the long-term success of a given movement.
Of course, the ability to see a perspective other than your own is an essential skill in life. Many professions, such as journalism, require this (or at least pretend that they do). And, obviously, it’s extremely valuable in person-to-person relationships. If you can’t see where another person is coming from, then you’re either an asshole or a sociopath.
While it’s helpful to understand an opposing view as an activist, your main job is actually to craft an argument to counter those views. To carefully determine your movement’s goals and use every (ethical) tool in the toolbox possible to achieve them.
One of the best definitions of the role of activist was formulated by David Brower, aka the Archdruid, the first executive director of the Sierra Club, and the founder of many environmental organizations including League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth, and Earth Island Institute:
“Compromise is often necessary, but it ought not to originate with environmental leaders. Our role is to hold fast to what we believe is right, to fight for it, to find allies, and to adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or our friends to win, then let someone else propose the compromise, which we must then work hard to coax our way. We thus become a nucleus around which activists can build and function.”
Personally, you might see some validity in what those on the other side of the aisle are saying, and you may believe that finding that middle path is ultimately the best route. And perhaps that’s true, in many circumstances. However, that middle path is already the likely end result of negotiations, with the majority of voices advocating for that position. Your opponents, meanwhile, are probably sticking to their guns, and if you want to assure that middle ground, you’ve got to hold your position in the ideological tug of war.
This doesn’t mean you’ll automatically win. In fact, depending on how ambitious your goals are, you might actually lose. But your job is to frame the debate and pull the resolution as hard as you can in your direction. You need to be the counterweight, and as an activist, almost all of your power is in your message.
For example, say your movement calls attention to the health and environmental impacts of bioenergy, the burning of trees, trash, plants and manure for electricity, heat, and transportation fuels – currently ½ of “renewable” energy in the U.S. You can damned well guarantee that industry is pushing hard for an expansion of all forms of bioenergy, biomass, and biofuels.
If your movement opposes bioenergy because of air pollution, climate, and forest impacts, to support any form of this technology will contradict your platform, make it hard to build a grassroots base, confuse the media, and cause politicians not to take you seriously.
I bet you probably haven’t heard much about the health and environmental impacts of bioenergy, even though it’s the #1 form of “renewable” energy in the U.S. And I’d venture to say that’s largely due to the “reasonableness” of biomass opponents.
It’s interesting to note that most of the bioenergy “critics” that have been most prominent in the media are actually well-funded supporters of the majority of bioenergy. Many of these groups will speak out against biomass facilities that generate electricity – about 11% of total bioenergy – while supporting biomass heating (50% of bioenergy) and liquid biofuels (27%), even recommending taxpayer subsidies for these dominant aspects of bioenergy.
Imagine an anti-coal movement that opposed 11% of coal burning, while coming out in favor of the rest, so long as it was done “sustainably.” Not only would that stymie the building of a strong grassroots movement, it would carry no real power to influence strong policy – though it would carry the appearance of success when middle-of-the-road legislation is proposed resembling their platform (because this was fated to be the case whether they existed or not).
This sort of weak advocacy isn’t exclusive to biomass opponents. Think of your grassroots movement and how some organizations and activists are pushing for wimpy half-measures and phony “solutions” that are either naïve, defeatist, or done to receive grant funding or a seat at the political table. Now imagine how strong your movement could be if everyone operated in solidarity.
So long as you also have integrity, tell the truth, reevaluate your strategies, and build alliances, you are entitled to be as unreasonable as possible in your activism.
If you believe your role is to travel that middle road, you might want to consider becoming a journalist, government agency staffer, or legislator…and leave the activism to the unreasonable.
We might not be able to define activist, but we know one when we see one, right? Go ahead, take a second to close your eyes and picture an activist. What do you see?
Chances are it’s an angry, costume-clad young person, waving a sign, chanting and/or screaming. Nothing automatically wrong with that favorite media image, though it tends to have a negative connotation to many in the “mainstream.” But is it really a fair depiction of most activists?
When I asked you to close your eyes (assuming you did so), did you picture a kindly grandpa collecting signatures in front of the local grocery store? A thirty-something mother of two speaking at a City Council meeting? Why not?
If you didn’t, it’s not your fault. Chances are you have just unconsciously adopted the popular media portrayal of activists as troublemakers and rabble-rousers (again, no judgment on those tactics).
And why is it that corporate media tends to depict activists that way? Because it makes for a colorful photo op? Perhaps. But maybe it’s also an effort (possibly an unconscious one) by the powers-that-be to demean and malign the very concept of activism, to alienate the general public from relating to it, and its role in a participatory democracy.
After all, an activist is simply someone without access to institutional power, an ordinary person trying to advance a particular issue through the court of public opinion, to attract media attention, and pressure policymakers. Instead of garnering the respect that should be due to such brave and selfless actions, the work of most activists is poo-pooed as petty and inconsequential.
Many of those who are scornful of activists seem to believe that real change can only be made through the system, by becoming a politician or some other institutionally-sanctioned “expert.”
Those who insist that anyone who wants to make a difference should run for public office are suggesting that the only legitimate way to make change is to water down one’s position to appeal to “moderate” voices, to float whichever way the political winds blow, and abandon one’s particular focus to weigh in on the winter’s snow plowing budget.
Those who tell activists to join the “expert” camp want them to fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars to higher education institutions. Only then will their opinion matter, even though it will likely be couched in never-ending nuance so as not to endanger their cozy slot in academia.
Unlike the roles of politician and academic, the position of activist is open to anyone who cares about an issue and has the courage to raise their voice to advocate for it. The ability to influence change comes from the power of their actions and words, and the credibility of their evidence, not their willingness to subordinate themselves to some established institution.
Activism is the ultimate open source democracy, giving everyone equal access and power, whether you’re a street kid from Baltimore, a housewife from Fresno, or a treehugger from Vermont.
Unfortunately, the gatekeepers in the corporate media, politics, and higher education have a vested interest in deciding which viewpoints are broadcast to the public, and which are swept under the rug. The power structure typically only allows the voices of those who are dependent on the system itself, those who would never say anything that would bring it crashing down, and leave them out in the cold.
Instead of the beholden politicians and academics, activists should be the hallmark of whether or not an issue should be paid any attention. For someone to take on a cause without pay, without the rewards of power and prestige, demonstrates that their grievance is probably worth acknowledging. Activism is one of the few remaining avenues to balance the influence the status quo, to ensure that the other side of the story is told.
Deliberately or unconsciously, media and other cheerleaders of the power structure have encouraged us to look down on the activist, to the extent that it’s become a slur, the A-word.
Instead of activists shying away from the term, they should reclaim it. The fact that those in power are trying to give activism a bad name, means only one thing: That activism works.