Activism: Marathon or Sprint?

Why activism is a marathon…

The 1% is killing the planet partly because these elite players have chosen to look no further into the future than the next fiscal quarter. Meanwhile, our spectacle culture exists to train and condition the 99% to maintain an equally narrow and lethal perspective.

Take sports, for example. Every game — every play, we’re told — is do-or-die and seems to carry deep meaning. A baseball player strikes out and it’s time to trade him because he’s clearly lost bat speed. That same player gets a game-winning hit the next day and yeah, he’s Mr. Clutch.

The same concept applies widely — as in movies (and their “stars”) judged almost exclusively on an opening weekend sales number or presidential candidates going from “favorite” to “has-been” in the time it takes for New Hampshire to hold a primary.

All this social programming adds up to a distracted and impatient general population often unable to distinguish between a genuinely meaningful moment and a cynically manufactured diversion.

As with sports, politics, and other media spectacles, activist movements are often viewed within a self-imposed vacuum. Occupy Wall Street (OWS), for example, was declared dead (or reborn) four or five times a day — even by longtime participants.

This usually resulted in at least one occupier per week using Facebook and/or Twitter to announce that after much agonizing soul searching, they were tearfully/angrily “leaving” OWS.

(The average length of such a hiatus? I’d say: two days.)

Gentle reminder: If you organize an event and only a handful of comrades show up or if an alleged ally exhibits what you perceive as rude behavior towards you, this incident doesn’t automatically signify that a particular movement is dead and buried and the cause is now officially hopeless.

Surely we can recognize that not every activist episode or anecdote carries profound and significant meaning.

Please allow me to introduce some more perspective:

Personal reality: Life flows in unpredictable waves and control is an illusion. Your favorite movie might bomb at the box office, your sports hero may drop the winning touchdown pass, or your long-planned radical event may go virtually ignored.

Suggestion: Try adding these two words to such statements: “this time.”

Global reality: It’s gonna take a wee bit more than a couple of years to eradicate a few millennia worth of patriarchy, sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, speciesism, able-ism, ageism, etc.

Suggestion: De-Occupy the myopic conditioning of the 1%.

Let’s practice a little patience when interacting within the movement and with our allies. Conversely, let’s fully reject patience when we discover the frightening truth about modern culture — the truth obscured by the corporate media.

The revolutionary process involves the nuts and bolts of daily, even hourly resistance — hard work like reaching out to those who’ve been heavily conditioned by mainstream culture. This can be an agonizingly slow, inch-by-inch effort — but it’s crucial.

The revolutionary process also involves broadening our scope and making wider and wider connections — aiming for holistic perspectives and thus, holistic justice across lines of privilege. This is abstract work but no less arduous. For those you already in tune with the radical groove, it’s crucial.

Still, again, not every activist episode or anecdote is a profound and significant statement. But all around us, we are confronted with myriad profound and significant statements… all of which we are relentlessly programmed to deny.

Every time a forest is clear cut, it is profound and significant.

Every time a Black person is stopped and frisked, it is profound and significant.

Every time yet another species (150-200 each day) goes extinct, it is profound and significant.

Every child born into poverty, every woman made to fear walking down a dark street, every calf packed into a veal crate, every predator drone launched in our name: all profound and significant moments.

Let’s be kind to our comrades yet unyielding towards our oppressors — but if you need a little break from the struggle, by all means, take a damn break. Standing up to the status quo on a daily basis is both mentally and physically draining and hence requires some balance in your life.

But please, skip the melodramatic public announcement. Save all that rage, passion, and impatience for the escalating battles that lie ahead. Take your break, heal yourself, and come back stronger. We’ll be waiting patiently for your return.

Why activism is a sprint…

We need a loud radical alarm clock and we need it now. In fact, we could use a bunch of ’em — tick-tick-ticking in every city and town on the planet to remind us humans that time is of the essence. Our eco-system is finite, there is a point of no return, and we could all kick things up a notch or three in terms of urgency and methods.

Maybe such an escalation could begin with a showing of High Noon?

I watched this 1952 film for the thousandth time recently and found myself focused on the moment when Amy (Grace Kelly), the pacifist wife of Marshal Kane (Gary Cooper), shoots and kills a man to save her husband’s life. Earlier in the film, Amy had declared:

“My father and my brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side but that didn’t help them any when the shooting started. My brother was 19. I watched him die. That’s when I became a Quaker. I don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong. There’s got to be some better way for people to live.”

However, she not only ends up shooting a man, she also fights off the main villain, which allows Marshal Kane to finish him.

Before you run and tell Gandhi on me, let me state up front that I’m not suggesting that you shoot anyone. However, I am urging you to recognize that those clock hands are inching towards noon and it’s high time to surprise yourself (as Grace Kelly’s character did) with your ability to take things to a new level.

But how does the average consumer-citizen make the leap from part-time leftie to full-blown revolutionary?

Five Ways to Start Beating the Clock

  1. Recognize the Emergency: When the stakes are high, we often react automatically. If you see a child wandering toward a busy boulevard, no one has to tell you what to do. If you see an entire eco-system in crisis, listen to your heart and respond.
  2. Create Solidarity: A social system designed to keep us alone and staring at TV, computer, and cell phone screens all day is not conducive to collective action. Break the cycle and cultivate face-to-face community.
  3. Discover New Tools: Dynamics evolve as must our tactics.
  4. Smash Hierarchy: Recognize and celebrate differences without assigning privilege to them.
  5. Shift Gears: Activism requires a collective blend of sprinters and marathoners.

Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here

Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here. This piece first appeared at World Trust News.