If we search for the word activism on the internet, in the resulting definitions we find that the authors use words such as dedication, commitment, attitude, behavior, motivation, desire … words that properly describe abilities and capacities of all human beings towards solving a problem or a social phenomenon. So why are so few people practicing activism in their communities?
To answer this question, I realized that there are many factors that directly and indirectly influence the cause of this. I will concentrate on explaining from my point of view what I have observed.
One of the main reasons why a person doesn’t even consider, or decide to take action to support a movement, seeking to dismantle all paradigms that perpetuate violence or inequality, has to do with low individual awareness. I write it like this because we can easily fall into the idea that we are helping a cause by donating things, money, or volunteering. I am not saying that this is wrong, on the contrary, it is necessary, and your help is recognized, however, true activism is born not only from this part of offering our time or providing material things to those most in need. A genuine activism is when we truly understand the problem from its own configuration, how it manifests itself, how it reproduces itself, and most importantly, how I maintain, injure, or reproduce this phenomenon in my most immediate context. It is to reach a deep reflection to act on all the implications that this problem has at the society and / or country level, and how our behaviors affect it.
I consider important to point out what probably many people can answer to this: “But I don’t discriminate against anyone because of their skin tone” “I don’t practice violence against anyone” “I donate money whenever I can” “I have no prejudices, nor attitudes of rejection towards anyone”, and many other phrases. And probably all of this is partially true, but something that I would like you to learn today is that there are many other ways of thinking, acting, and feeling that we do, that are already normalized by us and everyone around us, which intensify or make the problem invisible on a social level, in a way that we don’t even realize.
You may wonder how someone within this city of millions of people can have an effect on something so big? I want to tell you that yes, yes you do and yes, we all do.
We minimize and ignore social problems that do not affect us directly, or we fall into this conception that we are doing something just by donating material things to people in vulnerable situations, without truly knowing the depth, dimensionality and psychological or emotional impact of the social problem. The error is in believing that we are strangers to this.
Be careful here, what we can say that we have no responsibility is in the historical origin of the problem. It is quite probable that none of us who currently live on planet earth are the creators of a problem of social inequality or gender violence, for example, they are situations that arise from many years of history and social structure that is reproduced generation after generation.
What we are responsible for is how a problem is active and maintains active. Perhaps not necessarily from other countries, or from other communities, we can analyze it starting from our homes, in your social circles, with your friends or colleagues.
But how to recognize a social problem if I do not inform myself about it?
With this question I begin with the second point that I would like to highlight about why not all of us come to consider ourselves activists.
Information makes the change. The knowledge of the existence of something changes the perception we have of it, it changes what we do and think at the moment we see or experience it. Currently, more and more people are creating digital content with valuable information with greater scope on this type of topic. My invitation is that you approach these types of accounts, platforms and content, made with the aim of creating this type of individual awareness that I have been talking about.
With this I want to link the following point that I have constantly observed and heard. The lack of time. Which is largely related to the misconception of what it is to be an activist. Many people come to believe that an activist can only be someone with a political position, someone with a certain socioeconomic level, someone with a certain degree of education or someone “expert” on the subject. Although these things help us get closer to the solution more easily, it is everyone’s responsibility to act. With this, several people could say that they are very busy, that they do not have time to go to marches, conferences, workshops, or that due to the pandemic their physical and interaction spaces were limited. If you are someone who believes in this way or you know someone who thinks like this, you can say Don’t worry! Activism not only occurs outside on the streets, it occurs from our own behaviors and ways of thinking within our home and in our most significant personal relationships.
Well, now that I have told you a bit about my point of view, I hope I have made you confront and reconsider the ideas you had about activism. Now I will explain from my experience, personal history and opinion what it is for me to be an activist, in addition to giving you some ideas, tips, recommendations or reflections that have also served me in this process that is just beginning.
For me, being an activist is questioning myself, confronting myself and not being afraid to observe myself. And I say not to be afraid because within my personal growth process and my education as a psychologist, genuine self-observation can generate a state of anguish or rejection towards yourself and others, when discovering psychic structures that are not favorable, adaptive or healthy. By observing how you think or act and where these behaviors come from, we easily realize that they are learned from people we love and admire, such as our parents, grandparents, siblings, idols, mentors, etc. The important thing here is to transform this new knowledge that we are generating through simple mindfulness to ourselves. I like to call this a re-learning process. Because we re-learn about what we were already supposed to know about the world and the people in it. We re-learn about how our actions influence others. We re-learn about global conceptions of violence, inequality, and privilege that we were not aware of before.
As I mentioned earlier, activism can be present in our immediate contexts. How? Informing ourselves more about it, building for ourselves a new narrative about social problems, to later inform others. The simple fact of telling someone the correct terms when talking about sexual orientation or diversity, communicating a new idea in a dialogue that highlights a hate speech, sharing content on social networks to raise awareness of a problem which is practiced on an individual level, defending human rights of people we may not even know before people who minimize or marginalize them are acts of activism. Being active, taking action, raising your voice, promoting new ways of thinking, discussing what bothers us, that is being an activist. You don’t need to have a certain profession, or huge amounts of money to generate significant changes. If we start within our social circles we generate a domino effect that spreads to more and more people, which in the long term can and will have a social impact.
Finally, I would like to add that for me to be an activist is to deconstruct the social structures that were previously established, but that are not being functional for all its citizens. In order to rebuild myself as a citizen, daughter, psychologist, friend, and human.