What is activism?

October 2015

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I am curious about this word activism. Somehow it seems loaded with extremes and negatives, but I wonder whether reclaiming this word would be helpful -or not.

NOUN 1. the doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc.

A quick Google search reveals that activism is "vigorous"- I listened to a lovely band of young musicians performing for interfaith cooperation and understanding last week- some of the pieces were wonderfully vigorous and upbeat... and I suspect they would indeed identify themselves as activists. But Ghandi's peaceful protests were hardly vigorous, at least physically, and yet he was an surely an activist?

Further googling revealed this even more bizzare and less than helpful statment: "Many people can be classified as activists and many actions can be interpreted as activism, but this doesn’t mean that all activism is carried out by activists." (http://www.permanentculturenow.com/)

While this seems murky, and begs the question who is doing the activism that isn't being carried out by activists? Activism does often in modern usage seem to have aquired a connotation of negativism, I don't think that as a word activism inherently refers to negative or desctructive protest, but rather to active involvement in the society and community in which we live .

One thing that seems to emerge about activism that may be useful as a definition, however, is that signifies a shift into the public domain: taking action in someway means a shift from the world of private ideas, beliefs and opinions to something altogether more visible. And that feels inherently risky- there is no longer any hiding behind civil ambiguity. To be active is to be vulnerable, and it is also to be authentic.

I take inspiration from Pope Francis' modelling of peaceful and creative faith based activism, and the long tradition of jesuit /ignatian spirituality of active faith, and the liberation theology tradition from which he comes.

As long as we are awake and alive, we are also necessarily active. And so we are probably all activists, living our outward lives in plain view- lets just make sure the public and visible bits are the ones that are in accordance with our values and beliefs.

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