The Activist and the Influencer
"Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg
These days the lines between activists and influencers blur more and more.
The passing of our late Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made me contemplate this as our social feeds and my conversations with friends and colleagues post-announcement all included mention of this beloved.
It used to be that to be an activist, you were a bit of an outcast. Others may have admired your commitment to a social issue or a cause, but the majority were unlikely to join you in your fight or if they did it was likely with much less gusto and fervor.—as they were likely afraid of the consequences or stigma attached to taking such passionate stances, Activists, to me, felt revered and reviled at the same time. I, of course cannot speak to times and moments in history where I was not present, but at least in my lifetime I feel as though it is only in more recent times that activism has been celebrated and even more broadly embraced to a certain degree. I know that there have been various culminating points in U.S. history when uprisings of various pockets of our communities have temporarily mobilized our fellow Americans to raise their voices as a collective to demand change, justice, or opportunity.
Yet, these are not the pockets of citizens that growing up I considered activists. Activists to me were more of those who were completely and unapologetically committed to a specific (or at times various) social issue or cause. Risking arrest, blacklisting, or even more serious physical harm. This still occurs, we see the headlines and stories of lives lost to causes in particular in other countries. Everywhere that humans are, there will be cause for protest of some sort as what works for one subset will not work for all. One size fits all will never apply to the governing of citizens,
Anyhow, after tearing up off and on at various points yesterday evening, distracting myself with old classic films, still not quite ready to say good-bye to such a champion of all but especially female rights, some of these thoughts passed through my mind.
I myself have never considered myself an activist. No, I usually take action from a place of creativity or compassion. If I see an injustice happening, of course I am going to speak up for whomever that is directed towards but I am more solutions-based and while passionate about certain causes like human/civil rights, the climate crisis, preservation of our natural resources, and equality--I tend to approach the why, how ,and the what of my own contributions from a place of logic to ensure that my efforts are going to have the largest impact that they can and to help drive change at a faster rate. Take this year’s election as an example, sure I could be helping to register one uncertain/uninformed potential voter at a time yet I know that is not where I am best-served to help (definitely not with a pandemic still happening). First of all, I would probably end up in a conversation with the same person for an hour and by the end of it know the names of their parents, pets--basically their entire life story instead of quickly moving through people to register as many as possible. Also, one at a time would not do for my results-oriented nature so instead knowing that I have an ability to easily build, lead, and inspire teams to action, to bring people/organizations together in collaboration, and to strategize larger-reaching agile ways to engage so instead I do that.
However, I still don’t know that I consider myself entirely an activist as much as I do a problem solver. My mind appreciates challenges and my heart has empathy for others so I often time marry those two things, which result in a variation of activism— most of the time unknowingly.
I’m committed to finding solutions to problems that plague our world, and understand the level of severity of most which help me adjust what I might focus on at any given time, but I’m not obsessed in my actions as I still have other interests, a social life, and do try to practice self-care as I know all too well that burning myself out will not do anyone any good, especially not me. However, I do know though that at this very critical time that we find ourselves in across so many of these issues that I care about and that all hands on deck are needed and back to the election as an example —whether you are registering one person to vote at a time (I applaud you tremendously for this), using your voice and/or platforms to raise awareness and to influence for good, or just converting voters of your own bloodline at your own dinner table ALL of it is needed.
What I will say that the biggest game-changer in activism has by far been social media and the ability to address so many at one time, quickly finding those that feel the same around issues you are passionate about creating an echo-chamber that only helps to aggrandize either cause or activist exponentially at speeds much faster than on-the-ground mobilization ever could have.
What social media has also created is the influencer, normally a term reserved for those who have achieved some sort of “temporary celebrity” due to the number of followers that they have accumulated. Yet, influencers have always been around--originally known as socialites, public figures, entertainers, etc. Yet now, everyday people can enjoy a certain level of that same notoriety thanks to platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and the ever-challenged TikTok.
RBG was most certainly an influencer, but in the actual sense of the word she was also an activist, if we take a look at the definition of an activist “a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.” I won’t list it all here as a simple google search of the almost insulting search of keywords “What has Ruth Bader Ginsburg accomplished?” will give you all that you need to know. An influencer can get you to buy a product, try a new skincare or fitness routine, or to take an action. If tens, twentys, or perhaps hundreds of thousands of little mini-Notorious RBGs paying homage in Halloween's past don’t an influencer make I don’t know what does. (Full disclosure, I didn’t feel like googling how many kids dressed up as RBG for Halloween over the years).
So as we move towards election day and beyond, with a heaviness in our hearts from this tremendous triple loss of not only the inimitable Ginsburg, but also of the titans John Lewis and C.T. Vivian in the same year, during such a crucial and pivotal time for our country’s and people’s history, we must remain strong, clear-headed, and focused as we channel the spirit of these three icons in pursuit of justice and solidarity with one another to collectively will a new and brighter chapter to be written come November. It’s no easy task, but I have faith that together we will do it. We’ve all been through too much just in 2020 alone and fought too hard already to slow down now.
A new page awaits.