Passive Aggressive Activism

Activism Can't Dance

I’m cynical. I’m OCD. I’m judgmental. I can see the error in anyone’s ways. I also know the fastest way to undercut someone’s motivation to act is to find fault in everything they do.

Which is why I have no time, anymore, for passive aggressive activism. The wallflowers of social responsibility who stand just outside wherever the action is happening and make fun of everyone else’s attempts to engage.

I couldn’t be at the People’s Climate March. I do have doubts about the efficacy of marching. But someone has to do something if we’re going to survive the disaster facing us. So I was paying attention when someone otherwise quite socially responsible began tweeting against the march:

I was a little perplexed at such hostility against the climate march, so I poked…

I get it. I’m savvy to green washing, manufacturing consent and Milton Friedman-styled manipulation of social development. But this is the “largest climate march in history” (here) at a time when there are still many science Luddites denying everything from the hurricanes keeping travelers locked in the Cabo airport to 120-degree days in Phoenix, Arizona. So come on! Bill McKibben is ‘stifling actual movement’?

Sure I am hypercritical of the structure that makes it possible for an international business to outmaneuver and outright purchase legislation against the will of the people. But it’s not that simple anymore. Not at all. We live in a time when the next generations are reinventing the system. They no longer accept the status quo or the definitions that Boomers or Generation X take for granted.

The name of the game for those now taking over is collaboration. They work toward solutions together at the same table with people who used to live by the old dichotomies: good vs. bad, holy vs. evil, industry vs. environmentalism. Meh. Do we have any actionable items here? Cynicism is unproductive.

I’ve worked in and with nonprofits for over 20 years. And it is because they care. Every nonprofit that I’ve ever worked with–whether I’ve agreed with their mission or not–has at its core people who were passionate about the world being a better place and their contribution to it. The first lesson in collaboration is recognizing that you don’t have a corner on morality, nor are you the standard of what is worthwhile in this world. At the most basic, people take the stands and make the efforts they do because they believe it’s right. You have that in common with others.

It’s like protesting the flag carried by your grandfather who honored the country in war.

Collaboration and positive change require a skill set. It is the proverbial dance floor. You have to be willing to get over yourself, go to where the action is happening, and engage with others. Wall flowers don’t have that skill set. They remain on the fringes of meaningful action because they won’t engage, are envious of what’s happening, and can’t get over their self. They can’t dance. So they build social capital in the only way they can: they demean those who are willing to dance. Or sit home and tweet from their moral high ground.  There’s nothing more self-congratulatory.

Why be content doing nothing more than being critical of anyone who actually tries to engage in positive change? As the old Edmund Burke quote goes: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Why advocate for doing nothing? This brand of ‘activism’ means damning every hopeful attempt at change, contributing only to our extinction, fading into history as someone who was right about everything wrong and succeeded only in making you feel guilty.

That’s not the kind of activism that I value.

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