“Pretty pa-peep/pretty pa-pop/let’s go do a little snip-snop.” The Mad Kitten has learned enough English to understand that this phrase means I am going out to trim the edges of the lawn in front of the cave with a pair of scissors. This is her cue to run, hide, leap, attack and otherwise harass me during the process. My neighbors have grown accustomed to our odd antics in the back yard.
The grass tends to keep the her paws from becoming as gummy, sticky and gluey as they seem to get during the winter. Which means less keys stick on the keyboard and, I know longer have a scapegoat for my spelling errors.
The trade-off however, is the increased moth population inside the house, being dive-bombed as I try to walk across the yard and the introduction of little wet pawprints everywhere.
We had a moment last week when her latest mouse friend passed away and she got very upset. I was working at the desk, not paying attention to her, so she picked up the stiff little mouse corpse and walked over and pitched it on top of my bare feet. She then sat there looking at me like, “Do something.”
Randy Schutt says of modern advocacy that “After suffering years of frustration, many progressive activists are content merely to “make a statement” instead of actually being heard or to be heard rather than having influence or to have influence instead of having decision-making power or to seize decision-making power rather than creating a true democracy of empowered citizens.” (Inciting Democracy )
I posted a bastardized version of that across my twitter accounts today (picture the whole quote shrunk down to 140 characters) and it is something I am starting to bang on dishes and rant about more often because there is something deeply wrong with our advocacy efforts today. I went through a phase of blaming facebook and our generally narcissistic culture, and while that is a part of it, the majority of blame lays on the advocates themselves.
One thing I hear all the time is that advocates are striving to “give a voice to the voiceless” or to raise consciousness about an issue. They use models for advocacy protests taken from the 60s – marches, candlelit vigils, disruption of hearings to stage their interventions. The problem being that the type of leadership that existed in advocacy in the 60s, that made the Civil Rights movement as effective as it was and was capable of using techniques such as those as a tool for change – is no more.
Erich Fromm points out in his lectures “On Being Human” that advocacy changed in the 70s, where rather than it being a group effort to raise the standards of all, it became more about every different element getting its moment of recognition. What was lost was the planning and implementation necessary to utilize the people drawn into awareness through protest to create actual change. The act of protest in and of itself is not a method of change or even effective at raising awareness. He points out that no protest will ever attract enough people in and of itself to generate the kind of revolutionary focus and energy needed to create change. The focus and energy of change comes from what happens after you catch people’s attention (with a protest or march) – it lies in giving them tangible things that they can then be a part of doing to create change.
The way we act has evolved greatly over the past 30 or 40 decades, but the need we have for our actions to fulfill has not. We have moved, like our industry and society, from tangible interactions with real things (a water fountain, a seat on a bus, the right to vote and to be eligible for jobs) to confronting the intangible (property vs human rights, empowerment vs institutionalized management, distribution of funds to services that we do not get a chance to participate in implementing). Part of our core need to have a sense of purpose and placement in life is to be able to see results of our actions.
It is no wonder then that a momentary protest may generate enthusiasm among hundred and that these same hundreds will then not show up to do more work, but will opt to play a game on facebook that gives them purposeful feedback. People who are not motivated morally and ethically to accept sacrifice and hardship for a cause need a steady stream of encouraging results to grow into that kind of social being.
In the transition to the “Me” generation, where validation of individual aspects of suffering and oppression became more important than seeing oppression as an ill of an entire society, an entire generation of political and social approach grew up that is distant from tangible results. In trying to advocate for solutions to social injustice, the advocates of this day and age are also out of touch with the language of realistic approach – mostly because they have become lost in the language of process. Process, is very distant from the idea of a person who is effected and then effects a community and vice versa.
We don’t need more marches or protests or sit-ins or disruptions in hearings. We need more thought put into planning how to answer the question “What can I do?” realistically and with a way that provides a tangible result that encourages the person reaching out to be a part of the solution to step forward towards the more intangible parts of the struggle.
We rally for peace and an end to war and yet cannot define what that would be like.
We protest cuts to social service programs and yet have no idea how to use monies beyond sustaining and maintaining the problem because we have lost or rejected our social thinkers that dare to suggest that these problems need not exist.
The famous quote, “The poor you shall always have among you” means that there will always be someone in need – but not the same person and not all their life. That is the charge to the community. The charge to advocates is not to raise awareness, but to teach a way of living that brings change. Advocates would do well to realize that the problem does not lie so much in ignorance of issues, but of a rejection of awareness of them because left without any idea of how to tangibly work towards their solution – their immensity is overwhelming for many. And it is easier to show up and sing a song and go home and not follow through with what needs to be done simply because no one is showing anyone what steps need to happen that they can start to do. Real steps. Not esoteric steps. Not theory, but practice. After all, the more we can practice at something, the better we get and the more complex challenges we feel confident in taking on.
Trimming lawns with scissors
Tends to lead to such thoughts.
c.2011 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.