Guilt and Activism

Emilie - Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Entered on June 9, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I am a radical activist. Well, I was.

I believe in lots of things. I’d like to think I’m an idealist but I’m too much of a realist for those words to actually form on my tongue. I remember someone telling me once, as I was rallying for some large-scale public statement, “You know, you can’t make people care. You can make them believe, but you can’t fix the apathy.” I thought to myself then, “Oh Yeah? Just watch me.” That was a different time. No, not a long time ago, but things have changed now.

I was really interested in activism in college. I helped start two separate clubs for minority culture rights and belonged to four. Now, I don’t belong to any. I’m lucky if I get a moment to take a shower for a whole 20 minutes uninterrupted. But I still believe in activism. Lately, I’ve just been calling it “guilt.”

The worst part about activism is I know it can really help people. In a world where apathy is the trend we need people acting out their beliefs more than ever. And maybe I’m being judgmental by assuming apathy is the real issue. Maybe self-centeredness, of to put it less offensively, “self-involvement” is instead. That’s really where my guilt starts. It happens right when I make that decision to go home and watch “Law and Order SVU” after a long day at work instead of volunteering to work in the local office of Hillary’s campaign at night.

We all have a responsibility to help. If we can live here, pro-create here, find happiness here, then we owe it to our children to clean it up a little before they get their chance to mess it up again in the process. But that belief isn’t enough anymore to move me beyond the exhaustion I feel as a middle-class working woman trying to live the American Dream. How can I survive that line between the fatigues of life and the guilt from not actively participating in change in spite of it?

Ultimately, I come back to the same conclusion every time I evaluate this scenario. I must live my beliefs in such an integrated way that my day-to-day actions align with my thoughts. I can ride my bike to the store or to a friend’s if I have the time. And I can refuse to purchase meat for myself but eat it out of courtesy at a dinner party. As a teacher, I can institute a respect for others and an atmosphere of open-mindedness in my classroom while giving my students the knowledge they need to make fair opinions and decisions. The guilt becomes the motivation for me to get up every morning and find the courage to just be me. I guess that really is a radical notion, and in that sense I still am a radical activist, with maybe just a little good guilt left over.