Not everyone can attend rallies, go to pride parades, or participate in protests. Not everyone can organize sit-ins or walk-outs. I know I certainly can’t. There’s myriad reasons people may not be able to do these things, all of them valid. Does that make those who cannot participate in the wide variety of ‘in-person’ activism bad activists or allies? No way!
Activism can be incorporated in daily life, too. Simple stuff, stuff that’s usually overlooked as minor in comparison to large-scale, organized activism, is just as important. If you’re not sure how to go about incorporating activism or allyship in everyday life, here are some suggestions.
1.) Remember, you’re not a bad activist, or a bad ally, for not being able to participate in the huge things
Self-fulfilling prophecies can be a thing. If you truly believe you are a poor ally or a less-than activist, your allyship or activism could lapse. Being an ally isn’t easy, in fact it’s downright hard, most of the time very uncomfortable, but that’s part of being an ally to marginalized peoples. Your allyship reaches people, even if it’s not being yelled through a megaphone or written on a banner held at a parade.
That isn’t to say that needing to take a break from activism is being a poor activist, because practicing self-care is extremely important–there’s nothing wrong with needing to take a breather to rejuvenate yourself mentally and physically, to replenish your “activist spoons.” Allyship, however, is a constant commitment.
2.) Conversations matter, even casual ones
If you hear someone being shitty, tell them they’re being shitty. You don’t need to phrase it “hey, dude, you’re being shitty.” Really, you don’t. The thing is, plenty of people ignore “jokes” (rape joke, gay jokes, racist jokes, ad nauseum) because they don’t want to appear adversarial or anti-bro or whatever; plenty of people giggle for the sake of convenience, not making the situation uncomfortable. Plenty of allies do this, too, and it’s not called out. This is me calling those allies out. Say something. Your allyship does not end once you leave the rally, protest, hashtag, or parade. When you allow these jokes in your presence, what you’re telling that person is that it’s okay to say that, okay to do that, plain and simple–and that you’re okay with them behaving in an oppressive manner.
There are plenty of synonyms out there for the word “gay” when used in oppressive context. Like, a lot. Plenty of synonyms for “gay” when used in an oppressive context that doesn’t involve using ableist words like “insane” or “stupid.” Throw some out there when oppressive language is present; I promise, out of the entire English language, you’ll find a few. Out of all the languages ever, there’s even more. You can find them. Once you find them, use them. And use them frequently. We all slip up sometimes; slipping up and lapsing back into oppressive language are extremely different, though. By not using oppressive language yourself, there’s an example set–by calling out oppressive language when you hear it, you’re buttressing that example. Not using shitty language is talking the talk, calling out others is walking the walk.
If your class is having a discussion, bring up relevant social justice issues. Bring marginalized groups into the conversation, how they are impacted by policies, legislation, history, society.
My favorite personal favorite is when someone makes a “joke,” to tell them you don’t get it. Then ask them politely to explain to you why it’s funny. Then watch them squirm.
3.) Let us talk
In dis/ability activist spheres, we have a saying: “nothing about us without us.” This can carry over into everyday activism and allyship to other marginalized groups. Allyship is about lifting up the voices of marginalized people. There comes a line, though, that must not be crossed. That line is when an ally begins speaking for us, or over us. One of the biggest things you can do as an ally in day-to-day life is to bring marginalized people to the center of a respective discussion–and then let us talk. By talking over us, you are telling others that you know more about our intersections of oppression and life experience than we, who have lived it, know. Mansplaining, Whitesplaining, Straightsplaining are all no-nos. It’s like crossing the street: before you continue Stop, Look, and Listen.
The list, admittedly, is non-comprehensive and quite simplified. I will be writing more articles on everyday activism and good allyship on these topics and more in the future, each focusing on one facet of incorporating activism in daily living. Because it doesn’t end–or even have to start–at the rally.