Sometimes I don’t realize I’m wrong until I hear myself speak.
This happened recently as I was throwing out tired rhetoric about how serious social change won’t happen until enough people realize that rising up is in their own interest. I was echoing what someone told me at an activist meeting once: “This country won’t see real change until the middle-class fully realizes what’s at stake and gets involved.”
Peddling this well-disguised nonsense, I think I had actually convinced my audience, but I had to interrupt myself in the middle of this speech, realizing that everything I was saying was complete bullshit.
Intuitive lies can be the most crippling, because they sound so damn reasonable at the outset that we don’t investigate as thoroughly as we normally would. That activist’s claims are reasonable too if you don’t dissect the underlying assumptions.
She had gone on to explain that low-income folks don’t have the time or energy for activism. You know, Maslow and shit. And what we would come to call the 1%, well they don’t have a vested interest since they’re benefiting from what most of us call injustice.
So what she was saying is that activism requires time and energy separate from what we do with the rest of our days. She was saying activism is an auxiliary activity, something we tack on to a well-balanced life but don’t ask of those struggling to simply get by.
Well, that ain’t gonna work.
I won’t disguise my privilege, but I’ve also been in situations where the only way I avoided eviction was by running myself into debt. In that time of my life, I had absolutely no time or energy for any kind of activism.
But, hold up, who does have time for activism? As I sit at my keyboard typing this, it’s 1:58 AM, I have to work in the morning, and I just finished a 15-hour shift. I barely have time to keep up with commitments to myself like writing and exercising; I certainly don’t have time for your protest.
Okay, perhaps I’m no exemplar of middle-class life. But all the people I know who actually stick to an 8-hour workday and make two to three times as much money as I do, they’re even busier than I am! They have gym memberships, dogs that need to be walked, dance classes, children to care for, vehicles to pick up from the shop, dinner to cook, and let’s not forget game night. They’re not coming to your protest either.
And the 1%? It would take ages to list all their sins, but sloth wouldn’t be among them.
Nobody has time for your damn protest.
That activist thought she was being sensitive to low-income folks by absolving them from the social responsibility to work for change. But she didn’t absolve them — she marginalized them. She basically said if you’re too busy struggling to survive, then you’re not going to be heard. And that’s okay if we’re analyzing how things are, because it rings true, but it’s not okay if we’re brainstorming how things should be.
So this concept of activism as an auxiliary activity? Throw it out. Nobody has time and we need strategies for social change that account for that. And this middle-class savior crap? I won’t settle for paternalism for lack of ingenuity.
But if activism isn’t an auxiliary activity, what form does take?