You are not an activist

This is your wake-up call – hope it burst a bubble or two

 

Activism is about networking.

It is not about the glory of leadership, but making peace with being despised.

Any ‘activist’ profiting off his or her campaign for women, minority, or worker rights

is doing it wrong.

 

 

 
Your political ideas are admirable and your progressive social views are much appreciated. I regret to inform you that you are not an activist.

An activist is not a person with strong opinions and a will to broadcast them. An activist is not a writer like me, who sits on the sideline with a laptop; observing, recording, and occasionally lionising those fighting on the streets. This article itself, for instance, is being penned in a small town in the English countryside, thousands of miles away from Okara, Quetta, Lyari, or any region where predator drones are heard buzzing in the skies above.

Activism is not an enthusiastic expression of an idea, but an active struggle for its implementation. It involves knocking on your neighbor’s doors and inviting them to local rallies. It involves an arduous legal battle against a land-grabbing plutocrat. It involves getting used to the pungent stench of teargas and the bruises left on your body by the establishment’s batons.

Activism demands self-sacrifice in light of a principle larger than yourself. You are not an activist until your uncle calls your father and complains about your ‘vulgar’ views on Facebook. You are not an activist until your sister loses a potential rishta because of your campaigning for Ahmadi rights. You are not an activist until you receive an anonymous phone call demanding that you stop speaking up against the establishment under threat of physical harm to you and your loved ones.

You are an activist when they decide you need to go missing.

Activism is about networking. It is not about the glory of leadership, but making peace with being despised. Any ‘activist’ profiting off his or her campaign for women, minority, or worker rights is doing it wrong. When you swim against the currents of power, you inevitably lose money and social influence.

Activism is about surrendering your individuality to the cause. The neoliberal world divides us into celebrities and masses, the former being above everybody else. The Nobel Prize is awarded to a single genius or a lone peacemaker, or at best a team of three – feeding the propaganda that some of us are just smarter, bolder, and better than the rest. Activism is acknowledging that real change does not win you the approval of important people in large houses. Activism is not about being the next Martin Luther King or Che Guevara. It’s about humbly accepting your place as a cog among thousands of activists hand-in-hand together like a well-oiled machine. Mandela was as important as any one of hundreds of anti-apartheid activists who died fighting the colonial menace beside him.

Activism is not about being a hero, but the anti-hero.

Leftist activism specifically is about fighting inequality. In that spirit, it is not just about speaking up, but knowing when to remain silent. It’s about having the courage to bow out of the spotlight and give it to someone who has less power than you. It’s about a sunni man organising a rally for victims of Joseph Colony attack; then agreeing to sit quietly in the backseats while Christian persecution is recognised on stage. It’s not about “helping the less fortunate”, but ceding to them the power they need to help themselves.

Leftist activism is about studying the currents of power. If you’re giving a speech about ex-Muslim issues to white Americans, you are not an activist. If you’re giving a speech about the dangers of Hindu caste system to the Islamic Republic, you’re not an activist either. If you’re peddling a product that the system wants to buy, you are the opposite of change.

Activism demands self-sacrifice in light of a principle larger than yourself.

You are not an activist until your sister loses a potential rishta

because of your campaigning for Ahmadi rights.

Expanding on the aforementioned part about self-sacrifice, activism may not even necessarily be about community outreach. You’re an activist if you’re a gay person coming out to your conservative family, or refusing to marry a woman despite enormous pressures from the family. An activist is a woman who refuses to bear children, or do other things that a woman is “meant to do”. It does not matter if you hold progressive views, if you ultimately betray your identity and reinforce the oppressive currents of the heteronormative system.

You are not an activist. You are a person with a strong opinion of how the world should or should not be.

That does not mean you have no part to play. Your ‘opinion-making’ skills are appreciated. Your eagerness to take minor social risks by speaking up or not speaking up at the right times, is admirable.

If you truly believe in what you say on Twitter or Facebook, dare to be dissatisfied with mere expression of views. Come stand outside press clubs. Make phone calls. Write emails. Speak to others.

Revolution starts at home before it spills out of your front gate fully-formed.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.



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