Activism as Identity

Ask about an activist, and sometimes all you’ll hear is they’re too mainstream, too liberal, too vocal, too aggressive, just another feminist, just another phase. It’s said with an inflection that seems to undermine the history, personal stories, emotions, struggles and successes accompanying the word.

The reality is that some of us have activist in our blood. Rowan Blanchard, the Girl Meets World star praised for her outspokenness on social media, sparked this realization for me. She chose to take a step back from the label, deconstruct its meaning and ask, “Who gets to decide to be an activist, and who just has to be one because they’re forced to fight?”

It’s a startling realization; that some activists choose that identity, while others have had no say in the matter at all—and must carry it anyway.  

I didn’t ask to be given the life and identity of a queer, biracial individual. It just happened. Bit-by-bit, pieces of myself materialized into being without notice or warning. In those moments, I had nothing to lean on or guide me—no t.v. characters with which to identify, no stories of people who had been there before. I felt alone. 

Only when I moved to a small town in Texas and found myself to be the only one with a complexion tanner than creamy beige did I even realize I was a person of color. Then there was the time I was called the f-slur in middle school in between classes, shouted by a boy I had hardly interacted with before. And there were more moments like it, where life felt cruel and where a fair future felt impossible. 

It wasn’t until later that I fought, not because I wanted to, but because it dawned on me that if I wanted to see my future change, I couldn’t sit still any longer. At first I advocated for myself. I was the only person I knew how to care for, whose needs I could identify. And then I grew. 

When I began speaking up for my communities, attending events and creating relationships with those who shared similar identities, I found we were all fighting uphill battles for the same reason: striving to claim rights other people take for granted. But we were doing it in silo, without unifying, without knowing each other’s stories, and we were failing because of it. German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemöller, wrote a poem that we all remember reading—

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me.

My identity is rooted in activism because there are parts of me that could not have it any other way: I am queer. I am a person of color. There are people in this country to which both of these things is an invitation to violence, to hate, to commodification. If I am to live the life that I am owed as a human being with dignity—I have no choice but to be an activist. 

Yet, I also choose to be an activist. The Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter, Defend DACA, End Family Separation movements and more—I fight with them proudly and defiantly. Not because their stories are the same as mine, but because our movements collide and become one fight towards universal equality and social justice.

You’ve probably noticed we’ve done a lot of talking the last few weeks—this is blog seven in our series on activism, but we’re really just trying to unearth a good, thoughtful conversation so that we can better understand how people relate to the term and what activates them. We’re still learning how to be the best version of ourselves in this space, and we question that on a daily basis. Let us know what we could be doing better. 

At this point, we only have a few posts left. We will continue watching the activist space—listening to you tell your stories, because from an activist who lives in both worlds, I can tell you that listening without judgement is sometimes the most powerful thing we can do.