What I know about history plays through my brain like a movie; it’s on a totally separate plane from the things that happen today. Hollywood is pretty much a fairytale land as far as I can tell and I’ve always looked at artists and intellectuals and creative types as though they had this special something that I just didn’t happen to be born with. Activists and civil rights leaders may as well be superheroes to me. I compartmentalize things in my brain in this way that leaves me feeling so incredibly ordinary that it’s difficult for me to convince myself that I’m capable of being involved in or with any of the things I have subconsciously decided are out of my reach.
Now that I’m learning so much about gender politics and violence and other matters of social justice, I find myself being pulled back and forth between my tendency to sit back as a way to safely avoid general risk and failure and an unfamiliar and urgent need to take action. I’m forcing myself to lean into that latter option, but venturing into even the lowest ranks of the group of people who call themselves activists (for whatever cause) is ridiculously intimidating to me. What business do I have with any of it?
The activists I learned about in textbooks held marches, rallies, and sit-ins. They went through persecution and adversity and excruciating pain to take a stand for what they believed in. They fought for voting rights, desegregation, reproductive freedom, and other incredible causes. These people seemed larger than life – and they were. They were also real live people, though. They were real people who devoted their real lives to the pursuit of a more just world, to breaking down oppressive barriers, ensuring human rights.
Even knowing some of their stories, it’s often difficult for me to feel like I have enough knowledge and experience to speak about even some of the things I’m most passionate about. I’m pretty much still a kid and come from a generally privileged background. Why should anyone think twice about what I have to say? I don’t really have an answer to that question, but I am learning, I am listening, and I am getting too angry to sit around and wait for things to get better.
I’m taking baby steps for now, feeling my way around in the dark. I’m focusing my reading list and writing scope on matters related to social justice because I believe the more I know, and the more I’m working to understand the experiences of others, the more I can trust that my actions and expressions will be productive. I am attending meetings and events hosted by local groups and using every bit of courage in my body to participate in the conversations that are going on.
I am attending demonstrations and marches as well, and can’t even begin to describe the feeling of community and purpose that comes from being a part of a huge crowd of people who want to make the world a more just place — and are willing to yell about it.
Sometimes I feel like people think I’m being silly. In fact, I know they do. Several have told me so. I have one particular coworker who found out I’ve been working at this stuff and he calls me “his little activist.” I can’t say I totally blame him, though; I don’t think I look the part either, but that’s not going to keep me from any of it. I promise.