Tag: social change

Protests Don’t Work

Protests don’t work. Yes, I’ve said it. I’ve been an activist for over 30 years, spending a whole lot of time shouting slogans and waving signs, but I’ve been known to say it and will say it again. Protests don’t work. But, let me go a little deeper here and share what’s inspired this post.

On August 18th, 1920 the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed giving women in the US the right to vote. (We could get into the discussion of who exactly got the right to vote, but that’s another post for another time.) Historical societies and museums across the country are celebrating the 100th anniversary of this amazing victory right now with exhibits, documentaries, and educational events. Yesterday, a friend and I went to visit the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison to view their exhibit on suffrage. It was an excellent display and I would encourage anyone in the area to check it out.

As we wandered and viewed the images my friend questioned whether some of the tactics used by the suffragettes might provide lessons for organizers today. Could we use any of the same tools? She lamented that protests and rallies no longer work because of the fact that we live in a world of social media in which messages move so quickly and can so easily be modified. I proposed that protests have never worked and never will, at least not on their own.

Protests are only a tool. It is the actions between the protests and behind the scenes that make the work successful or not. Protesting remains important, if well used. It is a tool that can draw public attention and influence decision makers. However, it is important not to expect that protesting on its own is going to bring change. A large portion of the museum display was dedicated to the banners, signs, buttons, sashes, and tunics worn and used during fight for the vote and later fight for the ERA. This makes sense as they are very visual pieces of history. Still, it only shows us the highlights of what was really a much more complex history.

In the 1820’s, one hundred years before the amendment was to pass, white men had gained the right to vote in most states and discussions had begun about this right for women. By 1948, the movement solidified through the Seneca Falls convention. For nearly one hundred years women met, discussed, strategized, argued. They built partnerships and alliances. They wrote letters, created newspapers, handed out pamphlets, spoke to handfuls and to huge crowds of people. They coordinated conferences. Women, and some men, committed their lives to this issue of justice. Some would never see the results of their work as they would die before the passage of the amendment.

We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that social change is some sort of fast food where we head up to the capitol or wherever to protest and come home with our win. There is much more. The struggles are long and hard, but the victories and the loves found along the way are well worth it. Take good care of yourselves my friends and keep on moving forward.

What is an Activist

When I began Sustainable Life in Action back in 2013 the Grassroots Leadership College had only been closed for a year and I was trying to find enough work to keep my rent paid and figuring out how to keep doing community organizing. My dreams were of starting a new Grassroots Leadership College maybe statewide or maybe in northern Wisconsin along the shores of Lake Superior. It wasn’t too much later that I left Madison. Life didn’t take me to northern Wisconsin, but to Minnesota.

In those days, for me, being an activist still meant organizing people, coordinating trainings, taking part in protests, speaking at rallies, being a force, and fighting out loud in a non-violent yet intense way. While my work was for a better world most of my actions still landed in the realm of working against the evils. I loved my work. I loved getting to know people, making connections, supporting others in achieving their dreams, creating positive social change. We did create change. Every time we people connected and came to know each other, to see each other as valuable human beings we were creating change, not to mention all the battles won.

Despite my love for my life work I was burning out. That’s why I started Sustainable Life in Action. It was a tool to encourage my own self care as well as to support others in caring for themselves. It has been a helpful tool for me. I hope it has been for others as well.

My journey as an activist has reached a new stage. It is an interesting one for me. After seven years in Minnesota and one in Poynette, Wisconsin, I have returned to Madison where Sustainable Life in Action began. When I left this place I was deeply involved in the activist scene. My name was known for work I’d done, nine years running the Grassroots Leadership College, coordinating the non-violence trainings for the capitol take-over during the Walker administration, Green Party stuff, Labor Radio and board leadership at WORT 89.9fm, and more. Now, I am coming back in quietly to a place where there are many new leaders and much of the old guard seems to have disappeared or maybe just is quiet in these times of COVID. It is coming back to a place where I’ve never been before.

It’s good to stand and watch this new place as I too am in a new place internally. After looking for jobs in the nonprofit realm and at the university and colleges to no avail, feeling my stomach churn a bit as I considered roles in organizing again, I decided to go back to another of my earlier careers. I accepted a position as an infant/toddler teacher in a large local child care. I’ve been intrigued by the reaction of old friends who seem to believe that going into teaching early childhood is leaving the world of activism. These people tell me how I’ve “done my time” and that it’s okay for me to do something else.

How can there be anything that is more about social justice than caring for our children? Being an activist isn’t all about holding up signs and shouting slogans. Being an activist is about how we live our lives. At this phase of my being, much of my time will be dedicated to holding the little ones and showing them love. I’ve also chosen to commit my time to being creative, telling my stories, and playing with art. All these things are important. I haven’t done my time, none of us has. We all have a duty to care for this place and for each other each day for the remainder of our time. How we do it is up to us.

Take good care of yourselves. That’s where it all begins.