Every generation in recent history, has taken upon itself a solemn responsibility: that of effecting a positive change in the world and defending against a perceived evil in a way that was special to that generation. From the splendour of stately homes and sprawling fields in the English countryside to the humid sweltering heat of dense Amazonian forest in Brazil, the collective conscience of millions was ignited by two wars that left mankind a shameful legacy; a reminder of the depravity that man was capable of. Out of the smouldering ashes of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, from the rubble and ruins of Eastern Europe to the blood soaked sands of the Middle East a movement was emerging. Whether it was guerrillas in Africa fighting for independence from Colonialism or students in Alabama marching for civil rights, a message was being embraced like never before: Give us liberty or give us death.
Xenophobic propaganda, aggressive nationalism and colonialist ambition had helped create a feeling of inherent superiority among the peoples of many nations. Bullets and mortar rounds however had not shown the same prejudices, killing indiscriminately. The holocaust had revealed the cost of indifference to the plight of fellow human beings. We vowed never to let such an atrocity happen again and the we care enough to do something movement was resurrected. Fuelled by the memories of our darkest hours and spurred on by simple spirited tales of human courage: a lady refuses to give up her seat, a frail old half naked fakir trudges bare-feet through mud to seek the untouchables. We had decided we could and would do something about the injustices we bore witness to.
Human Rights and Civil Liberties, Animal Welfare and The Environment, Anti-War and Pro-Disarmament, noble causes were pursued with vigour and determination. With ever increasing creativity, new mediums and methods of protest had evolved, employed by generation after generation of those who saw humanity and compassion as a moral obligation and not merely a pursuit of indulgence.
Picketing, marching, strike action. Civil disobedience, occupation of public institutions and private buildings. Radio, pirate radio, and illegally printed posters. Leaflets, booklets and propaganda literature. Spoken word, conscious rap and plain old fashioned speaking. Stickers, badges and wrist bands. Tattoos, imitation tattoos and body piercings. Rioting, fighting and shouting. With the advent of the computer and the internet: blogging, social networking and hacking.
The activist was unrelenting, even to the point of militancy and breaking the law. Some were labelled heretics, seditionists, criminals, troublemakers, fear mongers, terrorists. Prisons and morgues heaved under the weight of unyielding belief and steadfast faith. Think what you want of their methods: Immoral, heroic, stupid, courageous or irrational. History will judge and the consequences will testify. But no matter what you think, overlook not the important fact, the very important and key fact; they did something.
With so little, those before us did so much and sacrificed much more. With all the knowledge and technology at our disposal today, Ignorance is inexcusable and apathy is an irresponsible luxury. This may be a true, but there is something worse, a position more dangerous to hold than many of the perceptions we fight against.
It is the position of the passive activist.
A passive activist. One who says I care and does not show it. One who says I will and does not do, says I am and does not be. The passive activist is caught thinking 'I have done enough', when there are still millions left to reach out to. The passive activist is guilty of doing today what could have been done yesterday. Guilty of turning a blind eye to those that cannot see. Guilty of being silent about those without a voice. Guilty of being deaf to those no one has lent an ear.
Now is the time for drastic and immediate change, the passive activist cannot continue to exist. For you see, while some have never had it so good, some have never had it so bad. Millions of people in need and those who support the various causes look to activists to hold true to professed values. Inaction feeds scepticism. Scepticism fans the flames of distrust. Distrust ultimately harms your cause.
If talk is not accompanied with action, then better are they that promise nothing and do nothing. At least then, there is no expectation and no disappointment. If we are not stirred out of our lethargy then we fail those our words have given hope. We must do more, so much more. There is no such thing as a half-the-time activist or when-I-feel-like-it activist. Does oppression and inequality pause and wait until we regain our appetite to tackle them?
But I cannot, I hear the passive activist say. I have work, university, college, school. I have responsibilities and bills and deadlines and excuse after excuse. If you think that activism is restrictive, tedious, a chore, a bore, you are sorely mistaken. If you feel that you cannot pursue an education and a career and still be an activist, you are ill informed. It is not the desire that one is torn away from your ambition but that in pursuing them one's activism flourishes. Anyone who feels that it is impossible to be an everyday activist could not be any further from the truth.
Activism is a way of life; A fulfilling life.
It is embracing and embodying an attitude of empathy towards, and an appreciation for a fellow human being.
Yes, activism is campaigning for women rights in war ravaged Darfur. Yes, activism is camping outside parliament for a decade like the indomitable Mr Haw. Yes, activism is trekking to the North Pole to raise awareness of global warming. Indeed these examples showcase the noble heights to which many have ascended to but activism is also raising awareness of the dispossessed and homeless in your very own community. Activism begins at home. It is very well to be a keyboard activist, that has its merits however; words will never drown out the voice of action. You might write a letter to your local MP, excellent, and then follow it up with a visit to their next surgery. Tweet about human rights abuses in Burma, that is good, then join a protest outside the embassy, even better.
For once, the worn and overused cliché, we live in perilous times, is an understatement. Action is desperately need, there can be no excuse.
It is frequently stated that nothing changes, that no amount of protest and marching will turn the tide, that activism has achieved and continues to achieve nothing. The sceptics point out that every victory is escorted by a myriad of failures. Indeed many have died seemingly in vain. But a special privilege is afforded to the activist; to be able to look into the eyes of our future generations and say, we bloody well tried.
Image from markwojtasiak.