Monday, August 10, 2015

Hijacking each other's causes

Like so many thousands of other people, I was beyond saddened by the senseless, pointless killing of Cecil the Lion. The lion population continues to plummet, lions that are still in the wild are getting smaller (because trophy hunters are killing the biggest), and communities are deprived of the significant, long-term economic prosperity living lions bring. Plus, who in the hell wants to live in a world without lions in the wild?!

But the pushback against those of us that expressed our sadness was immediate: on my own social media, I got chastised by a vegan friend who felt my outrage was misplaced and misguided. I saw another friend reprimanded by someone who said she should be more upset about the soldiers killed in Chattanooga. I saw anti-choice/forced-birth activists go after people upset about Cecile. I saw people rebuked by others who said it was insulting that they were talking about a lion in Africa “instead of” #blacklives matter.

How did it make me feel when someone tried to hijack sadness about Cecil? Angry. In fact, it made me instantly double-down, to post MORE about Cecil and related issues, not less. It did not make me want to start posting about the aforementioned causes at all - and many of those causes are ones I support and frequently post about (but NOT the anti-choice/forced-birth folks).

As an activist regarding various causes since the 1980s, I know that pushing a cause always inspires “but why aren’t you protesting such-and-such” pushback. Always. But these days, it seems fashionable to try to hijack someone else’s cause. The most recent example are the people that rushed the stage when Bernie Sanders tried to speak in Seattle. They demanded the crowd give 4 1/2 minutes of silence for Michael Brown, the young man killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri last year. I cringed, just like I cringe when someone demands I bow my head in prayer (I’m an atheist - I will NOT do it) or demands I put my hand over my heart and recite the Pledge of Allegiance - which I will NEVER do. The #blacklivesmatter activists refused to let Sanders speak at all. It wasn’t enough for them to get their message out - they wanted to shut down the event and not allow any other message to be said. And as a result, they turned away some potentially really great allies.

I’m not vegan, but I’m happy to significantly reduce the amount of meat in my diet - I know now, through the education efforts of others, that a plant-based diet is healthy, and that meat is not raised in a healthy manner in the USA or a lot of other places - and I'm  happy to hear about delicious vegan recipes - but if you’re going to belittle my compassion for another animal-related cause, I’m going to turn away from you. I’m going to unfollow you on Facebook and turn down your invitations to get together. I am horrified by the murders in Tennessee - but I’m going to stop communicating with you if you badger me about that every time I post about the murders in Charleston or Lafayette, saying, “But why don’t you care about OUR TROOPS and Islamic terrorism?!?!?” I am horrified by the systematic racism in law enforcement and the denial about that racism, and I’m trying to promote ways to improve that as a part of my professional, daily consulting work - I want to be an advocate in every way, not just on the weekends and on social media - but I will not support shouting down allies or demands to adhere to a particular script.

Yes, activism often is most effective when it's in-your-face, when it's disruptive, when it's loud and it's impossible to ignore it. Queer Nation's tactics in the 1990s are a great example of this. But their tactics generated not only awareness, but allies - like me. I credit them with waking up me, a straight girl, about gay rights. They made me an ally. They made me WANT to be an ally.

I will listen. I do listen. Talk to me, not at me. Be explicit in describing what it is you want me to do to support your cause in a meaningful way. Educate me. But don't just shout slogans. And don't belittle my compassion. This isn't about who shouts the loudest - it's about changing hearts and minds.

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