When people think about activists, usually one of two pictures come to mind: either it’s a raucous crowd yelling and screaming – perhaps even frightening or violent, or a person with conviction, perhaps righteous anger.
I’d say – at the heart of it, activism is born out of love.
The Oxford dictionary defines an activist as “a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.” and an advocate as “a person who pleads on someone else’s behalf.” That sounds to me like love – either of an ideal, a principal, or a person.
Why then do people get upset at protesters, activists, or even people who stand up for themselves?
Could it be that people who are willing to stand up for themselves or others are forcing a confrontation with deep-seated or hidden beliefs and people don’t like to be challenged about what they have allowed to happen on their watch? Notice I did not say perpetrate. The perpetrators of foul actions are usually quite comfortable with their own beliefs and relish a challenge. It’s the bystanders – those who profess to be “woke” but are not defenders who seem to get the most upset by these confrontations. Often those who figure that – as long as it isn’t they who are doing “it” – then they are not responsible for responding, these are the people who are most likely to be upset by advocates of all kinds. Dr. King called them moderates.
On a small scale, it is very much like the family member who defends you when you have been insulted – the resulting protest is born of love for the individual. Even more personally, when you stick up for yourself, that too is born of love – love for yourself, self-respect. Extrapolated, large scale protests are often born of love – love of an idea or ideal.
Activism takes strength. Activism takes devotion. Activism takes love. When encountering someone who is defending someone or something, it may help to understand what it is they love and why they feel inspired to stand up so that we can appreciate and applaud their gumption.
“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” -From Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail