Activism Lost

Road trips meant talk radio. Many late night hours were spent dozing in the back of a smoke-filled car while we crossed miles, the family off on another vacation. Dad would drive, we would sleep, and pavement passed. I’d wake to see headlights shining on the center line, my dad with his cigarette, and the sound of debate. We grew up with debate. If it wasn’t talk radio at two in the morning, it was questions with no easy answer my dad asked at the dinner table.

Now I have these same kinds of talks with my son and husband. I love the feeling of power, the words flowing around something strongly felt, the sense that change is within grasp. And I especially love learning, hearing the other opinion, being swayed to think of things from a different angle, being forced to question my words and make sure I truly believe.

So last week in Vegas my husband and I drove out to the Valley of Fire State Park. Absolutely stunning rock formations, billions of years in the making. And we puny, infant humans driving in air-conditioned cars (it was 111 degrees!) gawking. Art and I started a discussion around the current politics. Well, okay, it was a debate about as heated as the ambient air outside. Our opinions don’t matter here. What does, is I asked him why, if he felt so strongly, did he not do something.

Which brought up the question.


As he said, he couldn’t even see the reason to start a blog because there were so many out there with the same opinions and he didn’t feel he could contribute anything that hadn’t been said before. I laughed a bit at that. What writer doesn’t question how to make their story original when it’s all been done? But he was right.

I was a kid in the sixties, the wrong age for the peace and love revolution. I envied my sisters. Too young to actively take part, I was still convinced they would change the world. I’m not a historian or philosopher so I can’t tell you what went wrong, if anything actually did go wrong. I mean, hey, we got the Grateful Dead out of that period. And the Age of Aquarius. Oh! and the Partridge family!

Parked next to us at the Valley of Fire. Not the Partridge Family bus but appropriate for alien landscapes.

Parked next to us at the Valley of Fire. Not the Partridge Family bus but appropriate for alien landscapes.

But what about now? You can’t go on Facebook without seeing a lot of photos posted with opinions written across the photo. It’s like the new generation of tee shirts with statements. After talking to Art though, I’ve been wondering what good that does. What physical, tangible change is made? Art said in that very hot valley, that all those thousands of people who posted photos of themselves holding signs saying ‘bring back our girls’ put pressure for action that wouldn’t otherwise have happened. Maybe.

What risk was entailed for those people who had to do nothing but post a selfie? Does activism have to include risk? Can you change the world without risk? Can you change the world at all? I hear stories about children and homelessness and desperation, and wonder, what can one person do? Donate money I suppose, but that’s a degree of separation from reality and is that really activism?

I’m not smart enough to answer questions I’m not even sure how to phrase. In the Valley of Fire Art got pretty upset. He didn’t feel he was eloquent enough to get his point across. He always feels he loses when we debate. Well, he was eloquent enough that a week later I’m still lost in thought. Still on that dark road trip with talk radio as background noise as I try to figure out how to bring back peace, love, no war, and songs like ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone’.

It’s going to be a long, long drive.

Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire

Balancing act

Balancing act

18 thoughts on “Activism Lost

  1. Wow what beautiful pictures from the valley!! Interesting points and a topic with many different views as always. Some people they cant do anything and so just give and do not do anything. The other side thinks they need to be forceful about it and are extreme. And then others are trying to find a middle somewhere in there.
    Some use the internet to get their point across because it does reach a whole lot of people in this time and age. Others do little things in the believe every little bit helps, one step at a time. I am more like that. I always wanted to help children and not just they way as my profession but you know those poor ones out there that I cant really reach in my daily life. So I promised myself very early in school that I would sponsor a child when I make my own money. I kept my promise and have been sending money to a child in South America. He is the same age than Arthur and Turner and I saw him growing up. It gives me a little peace with your debate that I at least do something.
    In general I am more the peace and flower power kind of person and would rather leave a confrontation and find a new place.
    Those memories of road trips are wonderful!! I have them too though they are a bit different to yours. More like not to ever forget plastic bags, since I always puked in the car, or the cooler, buckled into the middle seat, being the boundary between my brother and me and the music my parents listened to which I sing in the German choir these days, at least some of them.

    • How funny about the plastic bags! Reminds me of the brown paper bag mom always had on road trips. Only it had candy bars in it and when us kids got too bored or probably disruptive, the bag came around and we got to pick one thing out of it. What a treat that was. You and I have talked about your sponsoring a child before, and your action is what I was trying to ponder; what kind of difference one person can make, and how do you make that difference.

  2. What a wonderful essay.  Did “we” change the world.  Yes and no.  The world changes all the time and yet it stays the same.   LOVE, LIGHT, BLESSINGS, JOY, PEACE and all good thoughts are sent with this message  Puma With Wings

  3. I can not type on this keyboard.  I have much more to say.  hopefully it will stay in my mind til to noc.  love jani   LOVE, LIGHT, BLESSINGS, JOY, PEACE and all good thoughts are sent with this message  Puma With Wings

  4. Oh it’s so weird how often our blog posts are in dialogue, even unintentionally! (And I just realized you left a comment on mine. WP hasn’t been sending me comment notifications this week; I don’t know why.) I enjoyed hearing about your conversation with Art on this topic. Erik and I have talked about this a lot (referenced a little bit in this post form 2011); I guess all couples and dear friends who are engaged with the world will have this conversation. There never do seem to be any satisfactory answers, only the ones we can come up with in the moment, the actions we’re taking (or thoughts we’re thinking) to address how we feel right now.

  5. And I forgot to say, while I was a TA at UCLA, at one point I asked my students why they were so apolitical, compared with the students of the 1960s. (It wasn’t a challenge; I just wanted their opinions.) Someone said, “I think it’s because we saw that people tried to change the world in the 60s, and it didn’t work.” To this day I kick myself for missing the opportunity to point out that the 60s brought us all kinds of advances in racial and gender equality, not to mention the environment… but at the time, I was still too wrapped up myself in wondering why I wasn’t more activist either. Very bad historian. I will always regret that.

    • That comment from the student feels so full of defeat. Very sad. I look at the 60s and think that the world may not have been changed, but wow, did things take leaps forward, as you point out here. You never know though, your question may have planted a seed in that person. We can hope.

      • I hope. 😐 I think I missed a lot of opportunities to prod my students to question their world and their lives more deeply. But then, I was so conflicted in grad school that I was myself entirely sick of questioning myself and my world, and that probably didn’t make me the best teacher. But I was nice, and I do know my students appreciated that! ;b

  6. I’ve been thinking about this and “the other Lisa’s” post for awhile, and I’m wondering if it has to do with the fact that we are all drowning in information. Not that it is good information, much of it is superficial and misleading, but we are inundated with streams of news and headlines in one form or another.

    To truly bring about change, there needs to be a more disciplined and dedicated approach, a deeper well of knowledge, than the sound bites and snapshots we’re used to. Sharing a photo on Facebook is not “activism” or “raising awareness” in my (humble) opinion. Most people don’t even read the articles they promote through social media.

    Unfortunately in our tech-obsessed culture our youth are not being trained in this deeper way of thinking (quality over quantity; vertical over horizontal learning)…but maybe there is still a seed of hope in those rebellious few that choose to read books instead of tweeting all day!

    • I hadn’t thought of activism in the context of modern technology and how accustomed people are becoming to ‘snippets’. You’re right that sound bites and snapshots don’t work. I’ve actually seen that at work lately where people receive an email and respond based on skimming the first sentence, without reading the body, and end up with responses that shouldn’t have been sent. I have hope though, when I see my 18 year old and his friends in deep discussions about life. (Of course, they are also all readers!)

    • On the other hand, Maryn, I think there’s a lot of value in the chatter, not just in the sense of content but in the fact of things being snippety and therefore more easily digestible. It’s much easier (and also less threatening) to read a tumblr post about, say, sexism, than it is to read an entire book, so a well-crafted snippet may actually reach more people (and a snippet with good citations knows to direct its readers to those longer books, so they can follow up when they have more time). And then there’s a peer-pressure aspect to this, too, that is often harmful but can also lead to good. If everyone in your networks is up in arms about something that happened, that might get you to investigate it too and examine your own feelings about it, whereas maybe you wouldn’t bother if it were just one person telling you about it.

      I can’t speak to youth being trained in deeper thinking but I do see today’s youth using crowdsourcing and community in intriguing ways, and I’m quite sure that’s related to the internet culture.

      Thank you for your email, btw, and comments on my blog! I’ve been sick all week so I’m slower than usual about, well, everything.

      • I agree. More concise content is easier to consume and share. There is certainly worthwhile content out there, and I am often moved to research the hot topics of the day. Thank you for reminding me of the upside 🙂 Hope you feel better soon!

  7. I’m laughing at my writing at the moment. The line above about loving the feel of power came off wrong. I didn’t mean I love the feeling of power, period. What I meant was that I love when people are deep in a debate, the feeling that arises that anything is possible. That sense of power, that we really can change things. So no, I’m not power-hungry!

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