In his amazing book How To Be an Anti-Racist, Ibram X. Kendi defines an activist as someone with a record of power or policy change. He goes on to explain that changing minds is different than changing policy. He in no way says that changing minds is a bad thing or a weak thing. He just says it isn’t activism.
I had to have a long talk with myself after that because in my most flattering definitions of myself, I like to think that I am an activist. But if we use this standard, I stopped being an activist the day I said good-bye to my old job working in health care advocacy in 2011.
I don’t want to let go of my claims of activism but I have to admit I am not changing power or policy in my current role in society. I talk a lot. I share a lot on social media and on this little blog. I participate in a weekly podcast about politics. I read about current events until I want to scream. But I’m not changing anything except maybe some minds. I’m basically a pundit.
There is nothing wrong with being a pundit. Rachel Maddow is a pundit. Doing anything that makes me in any way similar to Rachel Maddow is a win for my self-image. But in terms of instigating real change, no. No, I don’t really do that any more.
This is an election year where the opportunities to play a role in changing the balance of power in Washington are going to be abundant. If I want to reclaim the mantle of activism – and I do – I need to leave the comfort of my keyboard and go into the big wide world and actually do something. Knock on doors. Stuff envelopes. Do phon-e and text-banking. Something, anything, that feels like a goal-oriented action with change as the ultimate outcome.
I’m going to start with one of my favorite small actions: post-carding. There’s a great organization called Postcards To Voters that has a system set up where you can get addresses and talking points to hand-write postcards to voters in other regions. Participants provide their own postcards and stamps and you can choose how many addresses you do at a time. In the past, I’ve written for candidates and ballot issues. Right now, they’re publicizing Vote By Mail registration in Florida. I really like being able to contact Dems in Florida for a voter turnout effort. That feels concrete and useful.
This year is going to require more activism than punditry, I think, and I need to get off my computer and into my community to do my part.