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?