Before taking this course, I never considered myself an activist or reflected on what activism means to me. As a sociology major, I have always been passionate about social justice and these interests drew me to taking this course. It is important to state my positionality and reflect on my privileges as someone engaged in activist work. I am a 21-year-old white, able-bodied, cis-gendered woman living on stolen land in Turtle Island. These privileges have helped me come into activist spaces without having to worry about being confronted with racism, violence, or transphobia. These privileges also influence my perspective about different social issues as I have not had to experience oppression that other groups endure in their activist work. This course has expanded my knowledge about what activism is and what activism means to me. In my perspective, the term activism and being an activist is more meaningful in my life in terms of smaller scale gestures and movements in my local community.
At the beginning of this course, we discussed that the first thing we typically associate with the term activist is participating in large scale protests and political movements. However, this definition excludes different groups from being included in activism such as disabled people or elder adults (Chazan, 2018). Before engaging with this class, I held this narrow definition of activism and did not consider the various methods that we can use to engage in activist work. For instance, the Artivisms module expanded my definition of activism. Lee’s (2019) article showed me that activism through creative formats is meaningful and powerful. For example, crip art can be used to make change concerning dominant ideologies about disability and to imagine futures free from ableism. The Artivisms module helped me realize that I can consider myself an activist even if I do not actively participate in large scale events and protests. The solidarities module also helped to expand my definition of activism. Our discussions with community activists and engaging with Ziysah’s poetry illustrated to me that activism occurs through solidarity work. The conversations we had with Ziysah, Heidi, and Mehrangiz were eye opening because they helped me understand that activism in our local communities is just as important as activism at a provincial or national level. Additionally, these conversations helped me reflect on the types of activism that are most meaningful to me. For example, in my life currently, activism is most meaningful in terms of relationship building and becoming involved local community work.
Prior to this course, I think I was reluctant to refer to myself as an activist because I did not think I had completed a great amount of work or committed myself to a great number of movements. However, this course has helped me to unlearn the pressure I put on myself to become involved in as much work as I can. For instance, in Ware’s (2016) article he reflects on his experiences with his health and needing to take a step back from creating art. However, through this break he was able to enhance his relationship with the earth and nature (Ware, 2016). These ideas were also brought up by Ziysah in our Zoom discussion. Thus, I have begun to rethink the term activist and capitalistic notions concerning the need to continuously produce work. Unlearning these ideas has helped me to realize that sometimes our most meaningful and important accomplishments can stem from taking a step back and pausing to focus on self-care and self-love. In my opinion, part of being an activist is knowing when you are operating at full capacity and cannot take on additional work. This has been an important realization for me because the quantity of an individual’s work does not necessarily reflect the quality of one’s work. Therefore, moving forward I will not put myself down for feeling like I haven’t engaged in enough activist work, and I don’t think the term activist should be associated with how much an individual has accomplished or how many projects someone is involved in.
I think it is also important to consider using different terms, such as protectors or advocates, as opposed to the term activist. The Reclamation module broadened my perspective about the power of language and the ways that certain terms can resonate differently with people. For instance, in a conversation with Monique Mojica (2018), she indicates that the word social change or social action are meaningless to her and instead she resonates with words such as resistance and decolonization. Within this module, I also became aware about the importance of using the term protector rather than protestor to refer to the work that Indigenous people engage in to protect their land (Fusion, 2016). These conversations stood out to me, because labels are so prevalent in our daily lives and the terms used to refer to different groups can have social and political impacts. Thus, this course has shown me that many people may not resonate with the term activist. It is important to have these discussions to open up the conversation about the connotations associated with certain terms and labels and how we can re-think the typical meanings attached to the term activist. In my own life, I have not yet decided which terms are most meaningful to refer to the work I am engaged in. However, this course has invoked a journey of reflection and self-discovery regarding my own activism.
Moving forward I will continue to engage in the quieter forms of activism in my community. I hope to take these course teachings with me as I continue my studies in Waterloo. I hope to foster my creativity and participate in activist work through poetry or cellphilms. The discussions that we have had throughout this course have shown me a variety of ways I can participate in activist work without being out on the front lines in protests or organized movements. I will continue to reflect on the work that means most to me and discover ways I can help different groups in my local community. I feel as if my journey to activism has just begun, and I am looking forward to the work I will do in the future.
Works Cited Chazan, M. (2018). Introduction: Amplifying activisms. In M. Chazan., Baldwin, M., & Evans, P. (Eds.), Unsettling activisms: Critical interventions on aging, gender, and social change (pp. 1-20).
Fusion. (2016). Dakota access pipeline: Protectors not protestors, with Kandi Mossett [Video]. Youtube.
Lee, S. (2019). Crip horizons: Disability art futurism. Akimblog.
Mojica, M. (2018). “And then we let them go, and we have their backs.” In M, Chazan., Baldwin, M., & Evans, P. (Eds.), Unsettling activisms: Critical interventions on aging, gender, and social change (pp. 89-101).
Ware, S.M. (2016). Magic from the madness: On black disabled activists and artists making change in 2016. CBC Arts.