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Dan Savage and "Activism"

chicago dyke's picture

Harsh, but true:

People don't go to demonstrations or marches to be talked to death, they don't go to be harangued, they don't go to listen—God forbid—to poetry. They show up because they want to do something, they want to do something themselves, they want to take symbolic action. Part of what made ACT-UP so successful back before it was overrun by the same sorts of fuckwits and yahoos who ran yesterday's rally and march was that ACT-UP didn't waste your time. There weren't many speeches at ACT-UP actions—they were called "actions" for a reason—and certainly no poetry. If someone spoke, they said, "This is why we're here, this is fucking unacceptable, and here's what we're going to do about it." Then the ACT-UPers shut down the FDA, put a condom over Jesse Helms' house, throw peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the governor of Wisconsin, etc.

"People who took the time to show up at an ACT-UP actions were presumed to be on the right side of the issue and therefore not in need of indoctrination. If someone wanted to listen to speeches—or make them—he or she was welcome to come to long, weekly process meetings, where positions were hashed out and actions were proposed and discussed, shot down or endorsed. But when it came to the actions themselves people felt it was important not to waste the time of the people who showed up. Because if you did, if you alienated people by wasting their time (and lots folks were at ACT-UP actions were dying and so didn't have any time to waste), they were unlikely to turn up at the future actions."

The same critique is true for blogs. It's all well and good to provide commentary and analysis, but gosh it would be nice if more posts in the blogosphere were followed up with 'click this link and find out what you can do about it.' Sending an email or making a phone call barely count, in this respect. Sending a check, going on a Volunteer Vacation, and/or knocking on doors while there's still time, does.

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BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

Action, in my opinion, is what makes a movement a movement. Otherwise it's just a bunch of people talking.

We're still trying, I think, to figure out how to tie blogging to action. And I think starting to make suggestions about what people can do, particularly how to go about finding actions in their own communities, within blog posts is an excellent start.

Andre's picture
Submitted by Andre on

with blogs. I know what's wrong, so tell me what I can do about it. Although, to be thorough in that criticism, a lot of what I believe in has been refined and
defined from reading posts, and comments on those posts. This blog is a good example of that, though sometimes it seems that you all are trying to split hairs. Where the time could be better spent in splitting heads, figuratively speaking, of course. I think that the whole perception that we hear so much of, that people don't give a rats ass about things, may be just the fact that people do not know what they can do about changing things, other than voting, and I mean that about the general public.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

I understand the desire for action, but its a little annoying when people assume that blogging is where it all ends for contributors to blogs, particularly this one. I highly doubt that's the case.

As someone who doesn't consider blogging to be real activism (I'd rather be in the trenches), there is one thing that I find very important about it. Namely, that it helps to counter feelings of isolation. The whole STFU during the primaries, the TARP and HOLC "debate", as well as the ongoing effort in the health insurance handout debate is for one specific purpose: so that people will feel isolated. Isolation makes people believe they are weird because no one else shares their views. As someone who's knocked on countless doors, I'm convinced that "people don't care" is a rather ignorant view of the reality. In my experience, people care but feel they are alone. Blogging for the sake of blogging can be a way to counter those feelings of helplessness.

I recommend folks look at some of the comment threads during the primaries. They are filled with people talking about their first phone calling experiences and filled with helpful hints.

gmoke's picture
Submitted by gmoke on

This has also burned me up no end. People want to talk not do.

My main issue is energy and environment and I have been gratified to be part of a group that does work actions, weatherization barnraisings, once a month. We'll be doing several of them on October 24 to promote the idea of 350 ppm as an upper bound for CO2. See and for more.

We do these barnraisings specifically within a political context. Because our politicians aren't doing anything to reduce greenhouse gases, we will. Thirty years ago, we did solar barnraisings and some groups do that today too.

I don't like marches and demos. I like work parties and face to face lobbying, which can also include talking to the editorial boards of your local media.

It's fine to talk and plan and even exhort but time is short and we have to do the work to make the necessary changes actually happen. I have power when I work towards a common goal. We have power when we work toward that goal together. I don't want to delegate that power, give up that power to a Congresscritter, Senator, or President. Why should I?

A march or a demo is not really collective action. We need to take action, and I favor constructive action like weatherization barnraisings, to make the world we want ourselves. It's gotten be hand-made.

I'm waiting for a politician to campaign by working concretely for change so that there is an organization and tangible accomplishments whether that politician gets elected or not.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

gqm: don't get me wrong. this blog alone is proof that bloggers are also "doers." i don't assume that all people who blog are lazy couch potatoes who do nothing but type and bitch and think of it as "action." however, a great many do. this place is a damn fine example of those who are not like that.

gmoke: i still believe marching and protesting en masse has value. in a word: networking. i was sad not to go to NEM for that reason; it would've been very nice to meet people in person i only know from action lists and blogs and suchlike. i've been to many protests and marches and i've never been sorry to have been at one. they have their place, even today, when power makers ignore them.

my pro-marching argument is for sustained, confrontational action. not a day of marching, but a weeks-long sit in. not a series of speeches, but a day and night vigil in front of the power brokers, with hundreds of people vocalizing our complaints. not a rally, but a rally after which some people rallying then take turns following around and recording the actions of elected officials who do or do not turn out "in support" of the rally and cause.

another thing i should've added to this post is my own recent demotion to "stay at home all the time" person. i literally cannot leave my house (and the people i care for here) for more than 5 hours at a time; i am on duty 24/7 and on a limited budget as well. i'm not complaining, this is Duty i've accepted because it's the right thing to do. but it's opened my eyes to the reality that too many like me face. which is to say, i want to be "active," i'm willing to commit time and money and effort to "effective action," i want to get in the faces of the powerful and their apologists. but i can't, at least for this stage of my life. so the best i can do is blog/beg others with more time and freedom to do it for me.

...thinking on it, i may have to post more about this. but not today, i'm wiped from yet another day of working three jobs. i'm not the only person in this country feeling this way right now, not by a long shot.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on


Ya know, CD, I'm probably biased because this is my primary blog and the other blogs I go to seem to have similar types of people. So its probably true that there is a lot of annoying do nothing-ers. There are some people who will pretty much *only* be a do nothing whiner. There are also some who just need prodding or direction every now and then. I agree completely that we all need to do as much as possible beyond the keyboard. We also do need to build an "environment" that promotes *sustained action* instead of one time petition signing. More on that if I ever get time.

I feel ya on the lack of time due to real world constraints. The bulk of my blogging these days is done via blackberry while on public transportation. So it goes.