Posted by on September 20, 2019

/ˈaktɪvɪz(ə)m/

noun
the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.

I’ve been pondering the state of the world, watching the global lurch and shocks of climate change and broken politics, and of reports confirming our collective fears that we are losing species at an unprecedented rate.

But it was reading an interview with veteran of the activism landscape, Micah White, that raised questions about what activism is, and if writing is a part of it.

Around the same time, Stormbird Press asked me to write them a few notes about one of my experiences taking part in a traditional ‘activist action’. I was at a governmental meeting in Kenya—the United National Environment Assembly.

‘Here I stood in a line with 30 other women and men, thick black tape pressed firmly across my mouth, my gaze fixed on the ground before me—forceful and solemn. Anger at injustice roiling in my heart.

John Knox, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, called out the names of the women slain in the previous 12 months while protecting their lands in the Amazon, in Africa, in Asia—brave and inspiring land defenders, every one. As his voice rang out with each name he paused, giving space for their life’s echo to hang in the air.

One by one, as each name faded, the next person in the line angrily ripped the tape from their face and cried out in solidarity. Solidarietà! Solidaritas! Solidaridad! Solidarité! Solidarity—from across the world we were united. The cry the emotion for each life lost extended the seconds into profound spaces of love and anguish for the ultimate sacrifice.

Media cameras whirled and clicked. The amassed crowd shuffled. Many onlookers pushed their hands deep into their pockets, bodies rigid, shame etched on their faces. Name after name solemnly voiced and acknowledged. For the women lost and for future generations, we stood in powerful defiance of the forces that tried to silence them.’ 

Taking part in an action is one way to pressure for social change. But there are other ways it can be pursued. Margaret Atwood’s brilliant books are also a form of activism. Who could deny The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t a profound essay about fundamentalist regimes and the manipulation of political power? Her book, and the plays and television interpretations since, challenges tyranny.

I believe, in my heart, that authors have always been activists too. I am proud of this. It’s the foundation of who I am.

Words have power and well written books, nonfiction and fiction alike, have spearheaded campaigns, inspired political upheaval, and given substance to social change.

I believe, each book can be its own activist action, and by reading you become part of the change.

Posted in: Commentary