Anti-social Justice

23 Mar

There is a topic I have wanted to write something about for months, but it is so delicate – it is, really, the definition of delicate. I don’t mind so much getting hate mail or even losing acquaintances over things that I write – and I will unabashedly write whatever I damn well please most of the time – but I do have limits. I would never knowingly write something that puts someone else in danger or exposes them to hate mail, for example. And I would never want to open up the movement itself to attacks, which is why I have avoided writing about this.

However, any movement that does not self-examine is probably doomed to failure, right? And feeling rather inspired by the recent publication of this very important book (shameless self-promotion!), I have decided to go ahead and write the damn piece and see what happens.

The topic of which I speak is, namely: activists I don’t like. By which I mean that situation when you’re involved in a group or an organization or a collective or a movement, and you run up against someone whose politics gel with yours, but whom you just cannot stand personally. I am certain this is a widespread phenomenon in activist circles, but I never hear anyone talking about it! (At least not in the general sense. Certainly I hear people bitching about specific fellow activists all the time).

To be clear, I am not talking about someone in your movement whose organizing style isn’t your favourite, or who says or does something ridiculous/oppressive/offensive/silencing. These things may contribute to your dislike of the person, but by themselves they are inevitable problems in social justice circles and there are ways to deal with them. I’m talking about someone who may not ever do anything wrong, who, on paper, could be your bff/identical twin/perfect love match, but who in person just rubs you the wrong way for whatever reason.

The temptation for me is to distance myself: to become less active in groups where we are both members, to ignore their activist work, to refuse to retweet them or share their Facebook notes or go to their events. I think this is the wrong approach. If someone has something valuable to say, that helps the cause, there’s no reason why I should ignore it or refuse to promote it just because I don’t like them. But for me, I’m afraid that if I don’t distance myself, they will want to be my friend. It’s very difficult and I don’t really know if there’s a balance, or if it’s worth putting up with someone I can’t stand in order to project an image of cohesion. Is this selfish?

The problem is that if antichoicers knew I didn’t like a particular fellow activist, they could use that knowledge to attack both of us. But I’m not a great liar, and I don’t have a lot of patience for – well, most things. So if I pretend I like all the other prochoice activists, my emotional health suffers.

I don’t have an answer, I was just hoping others might have some input or stories to share. I am completely committed to reproductive justice and I won’t be leaving this movement any time soon. But the reason I stopped being so upfront and “activist-y” about being an atheist was because I couldn’t stand a lot of other self-identified atheists, and I still can’t: I find a lot of them unbearably smug, unsympathetic, cynical and depressingly anti-spiritual. So when I come across people in the reproductive justice activist community that really get to me, it makes me worried about how long I can hold on.

Perhaps I am just a grumpy old misanthrope, but I suspect not. I suspect many of you have encountered this problem as well. So help me out – is there a way to get around this and build a strong, genuinely cohesive movement?

There

is a topic I have wanted to write something about for months, but it is

so delicate – it is, really, the definition of delicate. I don’t mind

so much getting hate mail or even losing acquaintances over things that I

write – and I will unabashedly write whatever I damn well please most

of the time – but I do have limits. I would never knowingly write

something that puts someone else in danger or exposes them to hate mail,

for example. And I would never want to open up the movement itself to

attacks, which is why I have avoided writing about this. 

However,

any movement that does not self-examine is probably doomed to failure,

right? And feeling rather inspired by the recent publication of this very important book (shameless self-promotion!), I have decided to go ahead and write the damn piece and see what happens.

The

topic of which I speak is, namely: activists I don’t like. By which I

mean that situation when you’re involved in a group or an organization

or a collective or a movement, and you run up against someone whose

politics gel with yours, but whom you just cannot stand personally. I am

certain this is a widespread phenomenon in activist circles, but I

never hear anyone talking about it! (At least not in the general sense.

Certainly I hear people bitching about specific fellow activists all the

time).

To

be clear, I am not talking about someone in your movement whose

organizing style isn’t your favourite, or who says or does something

ridiculous/oppressive/offensive/silencing. These things may

contribute to your dislike of the person, but by themselves they are

inevitable problems in social justice circles and there are ways to deal

with them. I’m talking about someone who may not ever do anything

wrong, who, on paper, could be your bff/identical twin/perfect love

match, but who in person just rubs you the wrong way for whatever

reason.

The

temptation for me is to distance myself: to become less active in

groups where we are both members, to ignore their activist work, to

refuse to retweet them or share their Facebook notes or go to their

events. I think this is the wrong approach. If someone has something

valuable to say, that helps the cause, there’s no reason why I should

ignore it or refuse to promote it just because I don’t like them. But

for me, I’m afraid that if I don’t distance myself, they will want to be

my friend. It’s very difficult and I don’t really know if there’s a

balance, or if it’s worth putting up with someone I can’t stand in order

to project an image of cohesion. Is this selfish?

The

problem is that if antichoicers knew I didn’t like a particular fellow

activist, they could use that knowledge to attack both of us. But I’m

not a great liar, and I don’t have a lot of patience for – well, most

things. So if I pretend I like all the other prochoice activists, my

emotional health suffers.

I

don’t have an answer, I was just hoping others might have some input or

stories to share. I am completely committed to reproductive justice and

I won’t be leaving this movement any time soon. But the reason I

stopped being so upfront and “activist-y” about being an atheist was

because I couldn’t stand a lot of other self-identified atheists, and I

still can’t: I find a lot of them unbearably smug, unsympathetic,

cynical and depressingly anti-spiritual. So when I come across people in

the reproductive justice activist community that really get to me, it

makes me worried about how long I can hold on.

Perhaps

I am just a grumpy old misanthrope, but I suspect not. I suspect many

of you have encountered this problem as well. So help me out – is there a

way to get around this and build a strong, genuinely cohesive movement?

5 Responses to “Anti-social Justice”

  1. Kaitlyn March 23, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    I think it’s great to just talk about this and get it off your chest without naming names – that same feeling of relief I get when, as a childless woman, I admit out loud, “I don’t know if I ever want kids!” I think just saying it – “I don’t like everyone I work with.” “Some atheists annoy me.” “I think that when someone like you agrees with me I start to wonder if my argument suddenly had less merit.” – let’s you laugh about it. Call it ProChoice Post-Secret!

  2. WhiteFeather March 23, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    Basic human dynamics supersede even the greatest of political ideals. You’re a woman, not a textbook. You’re allowed to exercise choice in every area of your life.

  3. Johanna March 24, 2011 at 3:53 am #

    I have no experience of your specific movement (since I live in a country where it’s redundant) but I know exactly what you’re talking about. In activist circles, working closely together is often perceived as steps towards a personal friendship, and we all know that there’s no well-recognised way to break up with a friend once you’ve reached that state. But with regards to the cause, it’s counterproductive not to work with those willing to work with you. Perhaps you could try looking at them as work colleagues – you simply have to get along, but you’re definitely free to distance yourself when it stops being “work” and starts being “private”. If you silently draw a line to yourself I think others will see it too, somehow.

    Keep up the good work, there are many of us in the world who follow your struggle from a distance and are very impressed!

  4. Peggy March 24, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    In which country is the pro-choice movement redundant? I wanna live there!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Anti-Choice is Anti-Awesome: Weekly Reader - November 26, 2012

    [...] reader. Get ready for an avalanche of links!First, I have written three pieces for Abortion Gang: Anti-Social JusticeReview of MTV Canada Show "Impact: Abortion Stories"A Pro-Choice Canadian Voter's GuideHere are some [...]

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