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Cultures of Resistance

April 5, 2006

During FCNL’s Young Adult Lobby Weekend, as I spoke with high schoolers, college students, and young adult activists, I was inspired by the many ways people are working for change–in their jobs, through campus and community organizing, and simply by the way they choose to live their lives. Still, when I stopped to ponder my own advocacy efforts, my thoughts (try as I might to stop them) often wandered to “am I doing enough?” Maybe this reflects some defensiveness or insecurity on my part, but on occasion, even in the peace community, I sense a desire to “measure” activism–what have you done to save the world today? Admittedly, I’ve noticed this strange competitiveness in myself at times. Why, even in serving others, is there a latent need to prove oneself? Pardon the abundant references to sociology 101, but maybe it’s part of some socially constructed American norm, equating success with quantifiable results. In my lived experience, I’m culturally hard-wired to measure everything I do. But how can we measure activism? By degree of resistance? By the number of pins and buttons you have? By how much you shun “the system”? Being with and listening to my peers last weekend helped me get one step closer to realizing that these are not the right questions to be asking.

Measuring activism by an arbitrary “hierarchy of resistance” will not lead to effective change. It will not only alienate those you’re trying to influence (be they members of Congress or the general public), but it will also alienate those who are like-minded, but don’t feel they’re up to someone’s radical standards. Certainly, I question my role in working within the system at times, and I know there are those who think such work is futile. But even those brave revolutionary souls who reject social mores, who dismiss the system as hopelessly corrupted, who cringe at our twisted definitions of success cannot pretend they can dissociate themselves from America ‘s particular history and culture–including its system of government. I think the “American experience” shapes us and conditions us, no matter how much we resist it, and I think you have to embrace and acknowledge that, before you can challenge it.

That’s what I liked about this lobby weekend: people with different views, different experiences, coming together to talk, to open minds to new, creative ways of thinking and resisting, but not excluding anyone from the conversation or dismissing anyone’s work because it wasn’t their particular brand of activism. We need to recognize how our efforts complement and enhance one another’s, how they encourage growth and create community. Why create more divisions as you work to dismantle existing divides? I guess Young Adult Lobby Weekend in many ways reinforced what I already believed–advocacy isn’t about either/or, it’s about and. Working outside the system and within the system, pounding the pavement and walking the halls of Congress. I know this isn’t a new idea, but sometimes it serves me well to state the obvious. It refocuses me. So for me, right now, speaking truth to power quietly, subtly, steadily, even (dare I use such a DC term) strategically is, I think, just as effective, just as disruptive, just as soul-changing, just as risky , just as worthy, as shouting it. And that’s OK.

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