Bailey Kadian: What does activism mean to us?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - 5:36pm

How do we define activism?

I ask not because I have an answer or even the slightest idea of how to answer such a question.

I ask simply because it matters.

One of the most amazing aspects of this University is that it provides the opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in all that it offers, particularly in using our collective power to seek change and work with others to achieve a number of goals. It is a forum that includes circulating ideas, varying experiences and incredible perspectives. Some students on this campus demand we look at our communities and encourage political change. Others admit they are not as passionate about politics, but incredibly committed to social reform and equality among the student body and beyond our campus. Some disregard such distinctions and simply view change as change.

I’m perplexed at how complicated it is to fully understand how we view activism in our society. I find it absolutely outrageous when I see some people who are so outwardly vocal about what they cannot stand: this political leader, that professor, that campus organization or that classmate, but yet, they are the same people who sit on their couch and expect the problems that they have identified to eventually go away. They raise a hand in class to share their two cents about the problems around them, yet nothing in their everyday life seems to be adjusted or sacrificed in order to create the change they wish to see.

May I add that change does not happen in the form of a long Facebook post, where you can hide behind a screen and outline what you believe are the major injustices of this world. Once you feel you have properly voiced them, you sign off, close your screen and resume your comfortable lifestyle of observing what you feel is wrong from the outside. Your “activism” doesn’t leave your front door.

Some people believe that change will come when they dehumanize those who oppose them. Their voices can be heard loud enough and clear enough, as long as they have properly silenced those on the other side.

My idea of activism is rooted in what I’m sincerely passionate about. I want to devote my career to working in education reform and finding ways to provide opportunities for students who are academically capable, but are not provided the proper resources and preparation to be able to access quality education. I have found ways to give my time to campus organizations and nonprofit organizations that are oriented around similar goals. Therefore, I believe my activism is the process of devoting myself to the issues I feel I am most capable of solving.

Activism, seeking justice, achieving equality — however we choose to define this topic — reveal the inherently personal nature in activism that I feel our campus often overlooks. One person’s way of seeking change, like participating in a protest, may prove completely ineffective for someone else. Not for the purpose of why there is a protest, but simply what it asks of its members. You cannot adequately participate in a movement in which you don’t feel you can positively contribute. What I have defined as the “personal nature” to activism is the individualistic side of change, which is derived from a personal evaluation of what matters most to you. We all have our own strengths and abilities. I believe we should put these assets towards our existing systems — we enter, disrupt what exists and attempt to restructure what is there in a better way.

This past Monday at Hill Auditorium, I attended Congressman John Lewis’s keynote lecture, and one student asked a question regarding the idea of “levels” of activism, that is, some believe certain forms of activism are more powerful or worthy than others. She is a student in the School of Education, and she wanted to know how we can coordinate our various understandings of activism and allow these movements to work in conjunction with one another, particularly through how we educate one another. I have often felt like this campus glorifies a certain type of activist, the loudest ones in the room, while others who are involved with equally important movements are seen as complacent or not as influential.

This idea of “hierarchal” activism, which Nate Powell addressed in the lecture, raises questions of how educators and influencers can promote activism without suggesting there is one way to do it. When we operate under this “top-down” mindset, we tend to believe that politicians or other elected officials are the members of society most able to influence. In some ways, they can influence and promote change in ways that are inaccessible to others. However, the depth to which they contribute does not necessarily vary much from those in government to students on a campus who want reform. How can members of a community like teachers, politicians, students or parents feel they are active in change, though they approach it in different ways? More generally, how do we recognize and reward such differences?

Congressman Lewis spoke powerful and encouraging words to all of us gathered in Hill. He urged us to go after what we see that is not right and speak up. Activism is not defined one way and similarly, cannot be conducted in just one way. It is to be stretched, changed and designed by our unique passions and what we believe must be altered within our society. In a world that demands improvement, it is essential we realize what the path to change looks like — considering what surrounds it, and those that we encourage to walk along it.