Magazine article Tikkun

Hard-Won Tips for Twenty-First Century Activists

Magazine article Tikkun

Hard-Won Tips for Twenty-First Century Activists

Article excerpt

IN MORE THAN FORTY YEARS OF WRITING, ACTIVISM, AND fundraising for the issues I care about, I've learned a thing or two- or five- about what works and what doesn't:

1. "There is no end to how much you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit." I don't know who coined that maxim, but I've quoted it for decades because it's true. Many people have a dual motivation for their activism- the upfront goal of advancing a cause and making the world a better place, and the hidden goal of aggrandizing or promoting themselves. Maimonides said the highest form of tzedakah (charity) is anonymous giving. I think the best test of a pure commitment to social justice is one's willingness to do the work with zero expectation of honor or recognition. Sign your writing, by all means. Own your ideas (and failures). Accept kudos and plaques when earned. But don't slap your brand on everything. When there's a photo op, don't stick yourself in front. Let your colleagues push you forward. Let your works sing your praise.

2. It s important to sign online petitions and lend your name to ads sponsored by progressive groups. But those are acts, not activism. How do you tell the difference? Acts are easy. (You can't just click "send" and imagine you've changed the world.) Activism is hard. Activism takes hours, days, nights of dogged effort. Activists don't just sign a petition; they organize hundreds of thousands of other people to sign it. Better yet, they organize dozens of folks to show up, sheaves of signatures in hand, at the office of the person with the power to effect change. And if that person doesn't respond appropriately, they make his or her life uncomfortable until the desired result is achieved.

3. Maybe I'm too cynical (or tired or old), but I no longer believe in the efficacy of street demonstrations. I say this as someone who marched against the Vietnam War, for civil rights, women's rights, and reproductive freedom. In 2003, my husband and I traipsed down Broadway with two grandchildren and about a million other people to protest the invasion of Iraq. In 2004, another million of us congregated on the mall in Washington, D. C, to protest the curtailment of abortion rights. …

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