Confessions of a reluctant Activist

By | September 5, 2011

A while ago , I was hired at what I was lead to believe (and told repeatedly during the interview process) was a very progressive forward thinking and moving organization.

Warning! If somebody has to keep telling and not showing their politics there is trouble afoot. After the initial hiring, I was left to flounder because no one really knew the nature of my job or how to train me in the mastering of it. It was brutal. There was no way to measure my effectiveness because it was unclear as to what I was expected to do.

The folks who hired me were clueless in their expectations of me and being young and unschooled in the ways of on-the-job politics, I was unaware as to how to ask for clarity.

The white supervisors in charge -although trying to commit to diversity – had done very little work decolonizing their minds and therefore actions. At one point, I believe I even asked something along the lines of : if we keep discussing dismantling the prevailing power structure (the constant quoting of bell hooks made me think we had a shot at doing just this) who are we planning on putting in charge when this happens ?

I was sacked within a day or two of asking the unspeakable.

This reminds of me of why so many social movements fail to reach their fullest potential and fizzle once the leadership is terminated and or “fresh blood” is brought in. Within so many of our movements and attempts to dismantle the current regime, we often fail to do the work necessary to ensure that one group of dictators is simply not replaced by another.

Without love as the guiding principle and a firm committment to mental health, we can only recreate the thing we fight so desperately to eliminate.

Having witnessed so many politicos railling on nonstop about what needs to be done and by whom, I have seen very little work on personal development. While I know of several people who claim politics and enjoy a good banner wave, I know very few who are committed to their own personal growth.

It is very easy to attack the enemy in front of you. It is far more challenging to attack the personal demons we all carry.

Recently, I witnessed a discussion devoted to thinking and solution creating to solve several problems that the Republican party created and the Democratic Party has yet to dismantle. While everyone seemed bright and capable , one or two white males consistently dominated the conversation.

At a table of 10 people, two ran the entire discussion.

With a proper amount of decolinization, these two would have shut the hell up at some point and allowed someone else to speak. We cannot demand that others (Republicans, Tea Party peeps or whoever the big bad is this week) treat us with respect and refuse to look at how race/class/gender privilege derails even the most progressive and well meaning attempts to institute change and determines whose voice gets to be heard.

At the same gathering, I also witnessed a very brave and insightful young woman say to a group of folks, that as a young woman of color she felt it was her duty and right to “take up space”. The brave young woman who put her mind and physical self at the center was bravery in action and clearly on the road to decolinizing her mind and was willing take us along for the ride.


Whenever someone dares to speak not only of what they are committed to doing and why without justifying their choice, it sets the stage where there is an opportunity for power to shift. Whenever a person has done any kind of work on the self, there is a possiblity that not only have they started an ongoing battle for social change but they have started it where it matters the most.

So few of our progressives do any type of emotional work.

Recently, a friend of mine made a snide remark about something that I do that provides me with an incredible amount of emotional resource.

Apparently, Americans spend a great deal of time counseling, talking and in therapy. I quickly pointed out that for all the work that people in the world do who claim to be “progressive” they have so little emotional resources that their lives and social skills are simply inept. They could all use some type of emotional recharge because they run the risk of winning political power and alienating allies.

More important than rectifiying all the wrongs in the world is our relationship with people. This is the most important and joyful part of any political structure.

Laws don’t change people. People change laws.

So I issue a challenge to all those who know and love sharing everything that is wrong with the world to have a long hard look at themselves.

Tea Party peeps, bigots that are against same sex marriage , gays in the army , gays adopting children , etc. are easy targets. It is pretty simple and unoriginal to blame them (Republicans and the Democrates who love and support them with their silence). A more productive use of time would be spent looking in the mirror and asking when and where am I oppressive ?

Several white progressives love to rant about being able to marry their partners yet have very few friends of color.

These same progressives will tell you how awful someone’s political leanings are and yet are doing little if anything to lessen the burden carried by our poor and economically challenged communties. The gay men in California who are most impacted by the federal funding being cut for HIV care are not the wealthy nor are they white.

Where is the outrage ?

This is not an either or proposition. It is not about choosing to : “fight the good fight” or remain in therapy constantly going on about how fucked up the world is . Instead, it is imperative that we as the old black folks used to say when I was growing up, “get our minds right”.

What does this mean ? It means that we give up this dominator /dominated model and the belief that human beings “must have someone to dominate and rule over”. Perhaps this is not true.

This would challenge progressives to reinvent their beliefs and ways of being.

4 thoughts on “Confessions of a reluctant Activist

  1. Al

    I’m f-in speechless ..Much like when I’ve just heard a great lecture! I hope that everybody everywhere gets a chance to read this ..and I DO mean everybody!!! Mind if I spread this around a bit Anthony? As alwaya ..thanks again! -A-

  2. Rev.Skip Jordan

    This reminds me of the people who supported Prop 8 in Cali and the money spent by “Christians” trying to get it passed. One of the most timely books I’ve ever read is “Jesus and the Disinherited” by Howard Thurman. Written in 1949 it still speaks the truth today. You can’t tell somone what to think; you don’t change hearts by passing laws. Even speaking the truth doesn’t help; you must reframe the question and set examples of how inequities and inequalities affect us all. Read Dr. King’s theological treatises; his lesser-known works have a profound impact on human hearts.

  3. dk

    It seems to me as our society has become more divided and divisive, people have lapsed further into corrosively thinking that “we’re” ok, but “you” are the problem… and the enemy. I believe this started years ago, as far back as the late 1970’s. In the 60’s, there were white civil rights activists that didn’t just suck their teeth and shake their heads but actually got involved. They saw the mistreatment of humans and were able to relate instead of thinking, “oh those poor black folks”.. There didn’t seem to be an “us” and “them”. Where are the modern equivalents? Where’s the demand for humane Immigration reform? Where’s the grassroots support for LGBT rights from our straight brothers and sisters? (grassroots, not celebs) Perhaps that support waned when instead of an AIDS quilt we got the drug and sex fueled excesses of the White Parties. Perhaps this is a good place to begin our introspection..
    Yes, it is easy to submerse yourself in a group that stands on righteous indignation instead of looking within. Only then can one see how our own biases are preventing growth and advancement of ourselves and everyone around us. I wish I had a solution but the chasm grows even now as we head into the next election.

  4. John

    I have enjoyed your work and even sent copies of some of your writings to my partner who at the moment has no access to a computer. He really enjoys your writing, even more than I do, which says a lot, as he does not even like to read anything.

    And as a 50 year old gay white man, who only came out at age 48, I am becoming a reluctant activist in a fight against homophobia while trying to work within the system to address LGBT issues in the mental health field.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *