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Negative activism

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There are millions of cases all over the world every day where we can question intentions and practices. There are billions of people out there that think and feel differently to you and me. These different thoughts and feelings flow into an array of actions. How this (your opinion/perspective) is performed is what I am questioning here and the intentions in your heart. You may not appreciate how some people perform in the world.

The desired effect

Activist endeavors don't always have the desired effect. There isn't a single answer for this. I think this can be answered by turning to our own experiences and the impact (or lack of) that various activist endeavors have had on us.

What aspects about an audience affect the influence of the message?

  • The medium that was used to convey the message. E.g not all people are inspired by art.
  • Level of Impact/Engagement
  • Motivation
  • Observer feels they can make a difference
  • Timing
  • Comprehension and Misinterpretation
  • Resonance (Agree with the message/perspective).

From this brief list already it is evident that there are many influential forces that play a role in what kind of effect a performance can have. Some are in our control while others are completely up to the spectator.

For example, I have found that if a message is telling other people what they should think it can often turn people off. I have done this myself and it has taken me a while to realise why this is not healthy and doesn't create the desired effect. This has changed my approach to getting information out there, suggesting alternatives and letting people make up their own minds.

It is important to consider the style and messages in particular activist endeavors/projects. As discussed earlier, the selected style may not dance well with the observer.

I would like to discuss violence and activism, or what I refer to as 'negative activism'. I have never been a fan of activist violence and it has usually caused me to turn and walk the other way. Although it may seem like the only alternative at the time (for the violent-actor), I question the influence it is having on the desired outcomes of the project as well as other people's endeavors on the issue. Perhaps using violence or physical force has produced the desired outcome, but I am someone that feels that there are always healthier alternatives to conflict resolution than violence. Sometimes alternatives to violence may take longer to achieve the desired outcome, or perhaps seemingly generating no progress at all. It is these aggressive expressions that have assisted in giving activism a a bad name to some people.

Let me paint a picture - do u like being on the receiving end of road rage? Do you like being yelled at? How does it feel when you are spoken to aggressively?

It's hard to control these emotions when we are so passionate and fired up about an issue. But at the end of the day it's best to vent these in creative ways rather than bringing out the claws which probably only makes matters worse. This is a big turn off for lots of people who would like to support a particular project but don't because of people that are intense, prone to be angry or aggressive.

I recently came across an newspaper article about 'activists' who threw red paint onto a celebrity wearing a fur coat in public. I feel this is a very harsh and negative way of getting an anti-fur message across. Not only have these activists ruined the coat which already exists, they have used a form of physical violence upon this woman.

I have met people like this in my activist endeavors. Often these people are very frustrated and angry about an issue. They were experiencing great disempowerment. Their actions came from this negative space. Sometimes dis-empowerment can be transformed into positive empowerment. At some stage in our lives, all of us have probably done this. I know I have experienced this transformation. These days, I try to question not only my motivations but how the message may be received. Sometimes we want to piss people off, get a reaction, make them feel bad about what they are doing. If your action aims only to achieve this it may be hard to move beyond that point. It may make matters worse and it is questionable whether it actually achieves anything other than malicious satisfaction from the perpetrator's end. Pissing off someone is likely to make them even more resistant to what you want. I've experienced this over and over from my earliest memories. I think one of the hardest things is to work through the cloudiness of anger, frustration, disempowerment and devise a plan that is a more collectively positive means of creating change.

In my activist history, I've come across some pretty harsh politicians and company owners that make you feel as though you are talking to a brick wall or even a reincarnation of the devil. Often I have found that I rushed into the communication process too quickly before thinking through what I might be up against, and the type of worldviews I may be faced with. If I pause and reflect, I can devise ways of tackling these issues. The knowledge developed in this stage can really strengthen the process and could even lead to the discovery that you don't actually have to deal with that particular politician after all- or at least not alone. You may be able to draw in some powerful community figures that could assist the process. Actions such as these might help to dissolve some of these negative feelings or at least not infringe your ability to come up with a positive means of action.

Indeed, it is hard to define a clear line between the grey-ness of what constitutes passionate action and anger/aggression. I think the greatest thing we can realise is that we all have our individual perception of this and it is important to step outside ourselves and see how we are affecting the bigger picture .