politics, social justice

The Difference between “Activist” and “Almost Activist”

I’m sure it’s fairly clear from the nature of my blog, but I’m the kind of person who takes note of social and political injustice, thinks about it, talks about it, maybe blogs about it, but rarely does anything concrete in the name of fixing the problem. Every now and then I write an email to a state representative explaining to them that I would really appreciate it if they would veto legislation that restricts my and other women’s right to make health decisions about our bodies (and you can, too!). And sometimes I sign online petitions to the white house in regards to issues I care about, like for instance the fact that there has been no response to the recent petition to pardon Edward Snowden (and here’s where you sign that!). One time I protested a thing. Which was pretty fun, because gay people with signs tend to have a high denominator of fun even while addressing serious, civil-liberty-related issues.

But there is a difference between being a person with opinions about how the world should be, and being a person who is willing to devote his or her life to making the world the way it should be. I’m a writer, so you could say I’m an expert (or, let’s be real here, I’m working toward the goal of someday being an expert) on expressing my opinions. I certainly hope that over time, with my work, or my blog, or my emails, or my voice I can help change peoples’ minds about how this world should work, but I don’t harbor any illusions about the real-time effects of what I say and do. I have opinions, but so does everyone else, and opinions are very, very hard to change. I believe that the dissemination of information towards better informed discussion has power.  But I also believe that, in many ways, this power is nothing compared to the power of individual people like Narayanan Krishnan.

Mr. Krishnan amazes me, because he gave up a career in a 5-star hotel restaurant in order to feed 400 hungry people three meals a day, every day, without holidays, for the last ten years. Every day, Mr. Krishnan feeds hundreds of people who are totally forgotten by their communities, often mentally ill, without resources. He sometimes feeds them by hand, and also gives them haircuts. His charity doesn’t make enough donations to cover every meal, so he subsidizes it with money from a house he owns, makes no salary, and lives in the building where he and his team work. It blows my mind. (Check out their website if you want to donate.)

The dictionary defines “activist” as “an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause, especially a political cause.”  Mr. Krishnan’s cause is not an explicitly political one, but if anyone is an “especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause,” he is. To be any more active, he’d have to learn how to never sleep. But he’s not the only person out there whose activism amazes me.

When Edward Snowden decided to give up life as he knew it to make the American people aware of the government’s overwhelming information monopoly, he became an activist, whether he ever wanted to be one before. Likewise Julian Assange has risked political backlash from numerous countries to keep the public informed of classified government actions in and attempt “to radically shift regime behavior.”

I know not all of you are going to agree with what these men are doing (although I can’t imagine anyone denigrating Mr. Krishnan’s actions), but I can not help but admire the dedication it requires to give up so much personal happiness in the name of an ideal. And there is the real kicker, to me. Because I have a lot of difficulty imagining doing such a thing myself, and in some ways this makes me ashamed. I find myself hesitant to act when it seems possible that my actions could meet with familial disapproval–I haven’t even considered doing anything that might get me into actual trouble. Do I really stand for anything if I’m not willing to take risks in order to keep standing?

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