The term activist is a bit odd as it implies everybody else is inactive, which is far from the case. But for this we will imagine an activist as someone engaged in public life, in political life, is interested in things outside of the private. Should that not be everybody? Is there such a thing as inactivism? After all, to do nothing has as big an impact on things as whatever else happens.
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Today maybe more than ever. So what is meant by activist, or activism, here is a marker to describe those odd people, to varying extents, that have some kind of political obsession. I guess what is meant by politics here needs some clarification to. Politics, in this sense, is what we do together; by discussing things, coming up with ideas consensually, by inclusion and by keeping as many people happy as possible, before making final decisions and acting on them. Politics is the act of engaging in public life. This description for the purposes here, should not be confused with “party politics”, which is something completely different.
So what is activism here, in terms of what has being described above? Well specifically, activities towards implementing ideas that will force institutional change. The banking institutions; corporate institutions, state institutions and the powerful conglomerates, who for profit, ensure that many live in poverty. This is the high end of what needs to be achieved. If we can understand a bit about what is going on up there, we can understand what we need to do down here. This is the bit, apart from the obsessed, where peoples eyes start to glaze over. Attempting to explain to folk who are politically disengaged for many reasons, what is going on up there, in the corporate stratosphere . All they can see is the mad rush of their lives flashing past. All the things they need to do, or would rather think about, apart from, (to them) the abstract and intimidating world of the “activist”. What’s this got to do with me? A question constantly posed and rarely answered.
The general problem with the activist, (self included) is that they usually know a lot more about what is going on up there, than they do about what is going on down here. This isn’t a criticism of the need for better understanding, more a question of context, more a question of what is needed at this point in time. The question is not only about getting folk away from the television, consumerism and private life into public life, into the community, but also about getting the activist away from academia, social media, esoteric groups, the protest culture and the constant defense of their own righteous position, into the same community. We all need to have things we enjoy doing and that interests us. The point is. If that is all that we are doing, no matter how important we feel it is, we also need to ask. Who, and what purpose is it serving?
“If you look over the developments in recent years, there’s been severe retrogression on economic and political issues, but considerable progress on cultural and social issues.” Noam Chomsky
In other words we are making much progress in cultural change and around social issues. There are a mass of wonderful things going on. But there are two things. Where is the infrastructure work growing out of this progress that will be powerful enough to challenge institutional power, i.e. the banks? Where is the work going on to engage the many ordinary folk we will need to raise to that challenge? In the world of the activist, we can usually fill rooms to listen to and watch how others, in other countries build and raise the kind of awareness and solidarity needed to challenge corporate power. Which is ok in itself. But in our own communities the same handful of folk will turn up when the problem is our own social housing, or such like, that is at stake. Sure there is commendable stuff going on on the ground and much to admire that we should be thankful for. But it is enough to shift the might of the powerful? To hurt as Michael Albert says, what they hold dear? That will take a massive mind shift in the population, but will still have more to do with practicalities than philosophy. A bit less peer to peering on the network and a bit more education to where it is needed most. By us getting out more, by showing up, by being active, in all the right places.
The following offers some ideas for going forward. Yet again not much is mentioned of building grass roots networks that relate to peoples day to day lives. Maybe that could be part of a shared program?
People for a Shared Program
People for a Shared Program is a place to explore, develop and organise around left programmatic ideas. http://www.sharedprogram.org/#!faq/ryp9j