Amen. I have been involved in activist pursuits pretty much without pause since 1990. Some in the “real” world, some online.
I’ve learned the best I can do or even hope to do is align myself with justice the best I know how and pitch in as best I can. Sometimes that means being in a leadership position, but often it just means showing up. Swinging the bat. Being part of a larger whole.
Remember that story I’ve been working on about my Act Up friend Brad? I’m working with a screenwriter now to adapt it as a film, and he came up with the perfect title: “The Boys on the Back Wall.”
He’s referring to a group of friends who showed up at Act Up meetings every Monday, leaned up against the back wall and just listened while people like Larry Kramer, Ann Northrup, and Michelangelo Signorile debated tactics.
Just showing up is what made them real activists — listening, being there, and helping when the time came.
Most of them (me included) probably would have burned out if they had internalized all the leadership struggles.
We stayed strong by not dealing with all that. We went to zaps and actions, and we gave of ourselves without struggling to imprint ourselves or our tactical views on the organization.
We went out for pizza after meetings and gossiped about who was dating whom instead of growling over factional disputes.
Showing up is real activism. The boys on the back wall were real activists, even if nobody ever writes about them in history books.
Historians write about leaders, because they have to focus on something. But maybe that’s misleading?
Maybe great social change movements can’t be written about in any real, encompassing way. Maybe grass roots change is too diffuse for that.
Maybe real, individual activism spread out among countless people drives change, and leaders only reflect what’s happening.
Which makes not burning out all the more vital.