I recently asked a couple of people what activism meant to them. My husband said, “Raising awareness of and attempting to improve or solve the problems of an issue.” A dear friend and avid marcher said, “Activism is rooted in a sense of justice and I feel that no matter how small the actions I take, they will have impact. My seventeen-year-old son put it simply, “To promote change through action.” But what does action look like? I’ve always thought that activism was something all consuming, heroic, and a little bit crazy, which I’ve learned is called “front-line” activism.
Front-Line activists are people like Mahatma Gandhi, who went on a hunger strike in protest of caste separation, Julia Butterfly Hill who lived in a tree for 738 days to protest the clear cutting of forests, and Rachel Corrie, a pro Palestinian activist, who was killed while blocking an armored, Israeli, bulldozer. I’m no hero, and never felt strong enough about any issue to devote my life to changing it. But with the presidency of The Great Galvanizer, Donald Trump, I have discovered that the activism spectrum is long and broad and goes from subtle to front-line activism and art to volunteer activism, and all of us are probably activists for something important to us, somewhere along the spectrum.
When I was a kid, my mom took my siblings and me to meet a family friend, Sister Mary Dolores. She was a cloistered nun with the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary in Union City, New Jersey. Her convent took up an entire city block. The sisters rarely left the convent because they spent there time praying. We were able to visit with Sister Dolores but were separated by a lattice screen as if visiting a prisoner in jail.
The legend in our family was that Sister Dolores could perform miracles. I thought it was odd that she could do this without ever leaving the convent. My mom told a story about a school that needed about twenty-five typewriters and they asked sister Dolores for help. She had some good mojo because shortly after the request, twenty-five typewriters showed up at the school. Now looking back, I realized that she practiced subtle activism through prayer and meditation and perhaps a little of something else.
I think 2017 will be known as The Year of Activism. January saw women band together all over the world for The Women’s March. No only did the travel ban bring out protestors but lawyers came out in droves to help stranded travelers. Unprecedented numbers of people are calling their senators and congressmen with their concerns on topics from the Affordable Care Act to education, and churches are offering sanctuary to illegal immigrants. Aside from the activists responding to the policies of the current administration there are people responding to all kinds of ills and problems, such as gun violence.
Every couple of weeks, I get an email from Nicole Hockley, the mother of murdered first-grader, Dylan, on behalf of Sandy Hook Promise, asking for support. There is Martin Zimmer’s production of On The Exhale, a one-woman show inspired by the Sandy Hook School shootings. Denise Gathings, a Chicago police officer has written and is directing a play called, My Soul Cries Out: Stop!
There are medical activists such as Dr. David Fajgenbaum who was diagnosed with Castleman’s disease while in medical school. He has devoted his life to finding a cure, which includes experimenting on his own body. This list is endless and anybody can be an activist if they feel strongly about something. You don’t have to step outside your comfort level and you can use your talents to bring about change.
I prefer small-scale activism. I’m not interested in tackling the big issues. I’m currently working on spreading kindness because I believe that is where all positive changes start. Since I’ve unlocked my activist self, this is what my day looks like: A constipated kid comes to my art class and asks to work on the floor. I show him some yoga twists and suggest he drink a big glass of water when he gets home. I tell his mom how much I love my Squatty Potty and how helpful it is in avoiding constipation.
When I saw a neighbor on the street who’s husband just died, I offer to help her with her dogs or drop off a meal. I’ve taken to hugging people outside my family and have just designed and ordered I Give Hugs! stickers to indicate I’m happy to give a hug. My passion is writing and I use this Artist’s Eye column to share information about topics that are important to me. That is the whole point of activism. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”