by Gabrielle Korn
“What does activism mean to you?”
For me, activism is putting into action my feminist values, in an effort to make a world that is more just, compassionate and healthy. Sometimes that means saying “that’s not funny” to a homophobic joke or buying a piece of art from a young feminist photographer (to add to its value in a world where male art is overvalued). Other times it means witnessing a problem and actually thinking of a possible solution. For instance, a friend who is a single mother and transitioning from housekeeper work to going to college needed assistance of the type rich and middle-class working mothers have (someone to pick up the kids at school, help with homework and get dinner going). It occurred to me that there should be a Care Corps, like the Peace Corps, that provides this kind of critical assistance. Since that conversation and insight with my friend, I have been working on developing a Care Corps as an alliance between my students at the New School (who would receive credit for becoming Care Corps members) and the clients of Sanctuary for Families.
Basically, activism is realizing that I can do something to make the world work better and it’s my job to figure out what it is I can do.
Jennifer Baumgardner is the author of F’ em!, Grassroots, Manifesta, Look Both Ways and Abortion & Life. She is creator of the I Had an Abortion Project, as well as the co-founder of Feminist Boot Camps and Soapbox, Inc.
For me, activism is a strategic, focused, engaging and compassionate effort in a direction that betters the lives of the historically disenfranchised. In my own life this has played out through working to change the media because I believe the way that we are represented impacts the things we have access to and the decisions that are made about our lives. But that is only one part of a larger strategy for changing the way that power is dispersed in this country. What really creates social change is for different activists movements to be working in harmony — explicitly and implicitly.
Activism is what happens in that transformative moment when we move past just feeling frustrated or angry or helpless or cynical when faced with oppressive systems, and decide to do something to make the systems less oppressive. The rest is details.
Jaclyn Friedman is an author, educator, activist, and the founder and executive director of Women, Action & the Media. She’s the editor of the hit anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, and author of What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety.
Sarah Elspeth Patterson:
For me, activism is an everyday experience. In my work, I advocate for people who experience disproportionate amounts of violence and stigma, such as LGBTQ youth and sex workers. This means that I educate youth and sex workers to empower them to make informed personal decisions, in a world that is openly hostile to them. I can’t just do this in the classroom, I have to do this in my private life and out on the streets. Talking to people about change and living in the world as a person who strives to respect others, every moment of every day, is the only way I know how to keep things moving forward.
Sarah Elspeth Patterson is a community organizer for the Sex Workers Outreach Project and a teen sexuality educator.
To me, activism means resisting the structures, practices and ideologies that divide us. But more fervently, it means putting our desires — for justice, for change, for all the pleasure and ecstasy the world offers — at the forefront of our activism. The Barnard Center for Research on Women, where I work, and Queers for Economic Justice are developing a project called “Desiring Change.” The project is based on our desire for a different kind of world, where economic security is possible for all people, where health care is available to all, and all people’s relational lives and family structures are recognized and supported. To realize this vision our hope is that sexuality, desire and the possibility of the erotic are integrated into the core of our political understanding and become key engines in the mission of organizers working on a range of issues. We aspire to build connections among activists and issues, and together, build the world we desire.
Catherine Sameh is the Associate Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women and a Ph.D. candidate in Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University. She co-founded In Other Words Women’s Books and Resources and was active in the reproductive rights movement in Portland, Oregon.
To me, activism begins when you become aware of an injustice that is really crying out for attention – something that shocks the conscience and yet is not being addressed. The primary reason injustice exists is that those who are most affected by it are least able to effect change; they may be victims of circumstances or biases that deprive them of any real power. You then realize you may have the resources to help make a difference, whether it is your passion, your education, your experiences, your network – and you feel compelled to do something. Then you make sure that you know your subject inside and out, as well as verify that your proposed solutions are what the potential beneficiaries of your activism really want and need. Finally, you connect and collaborate with like-minded people or organizations, and take strategic steps — such as making legal or policy arguments, mounting a public campaign, or working with (or pressuring) policymakers – to accomplish what you’re aiming for. And if that doesn’t work, try, try again! Persistence is essential to effective activism.
Sarah Morison is an attorney currently serving as a consultant to the Geneva Project at the Global Justice Center in NYC. She spent 10 years as a Massachusetts Asst. Attorney General, and prior to that was a litigation associate with the Boston firm of Bingham McCutchen.
Gabrielle Korn is the Editorial Assistant at On The Issues Magazine. She is an activist, writer, and artist.
Also see: Patient Power – The Reluctant Revolution by Merle Hoffman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.
Also see: Food for The Soul: Poetry That Pierces Injustice by Sarah Browning in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.
Read the Cafe for new and updated stories.