My friend Karen has a blog called “Domestigoth”, and she writes about some interesting things. She has a post about the psychology of being an enabler, one about expectations of genius, and one I just read last night about falling out of love with an activism movement.
The way she couched the issue at hand spoke to me and made me think of the broader topic for possibly all causes:
Don’t get me wrong; the weekend is always full of fun events. When I’ve attended Pride celebrations in the past, I’ve always had a pretty good time. But it just seems more and more that Pride has lost touch with its roots, becoming a mass-media fueled circus of stereotypes. And in the places where glimpses of those authentic roots can be seen, they’ve stagnated, not keeping up with the times of a changing world and society.
My biggest problem with Pride, as it exists today, is that I’m no longer sure whether it’s helping with the cause of acceptance and integration. Pride arose out of the oppression of the 1950s and 60s, when there were no laws protecting against sexual discrimination, and being openly gay (and especially cross-dressing) could get you arrested as a “sexual deviant”. One of the driving forces behind the formation of Pride Weekend, in particular, was the Stonewall Riots, when violence erupted following a particularly brutal police raid on a well-known gay establishment. And so in the beginning, Pride was about being confrontational and in-your-face. It had to be. Gay people were facing violence, and were tired of just lying down and taking it — they wanted and needed to fight back, in a very real and physical sense.
And later in the post:
I can’t help but feel that in the face of such stereotypical images, non-heterosexuality hasn’t been accepted by the general public … it’s just been shoved into a convenient and comfortable category. Gay people are harmless. Just let them have their parties and their hair gel and they’ll be happy. And so people tolerate gayness … but they don’t accept it. It’s kept separate from them, hermetically sealed off away from their “family values”.
And I think she caught onto something I had noticed but had struggled to put into overall context. Today, thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to speak out about a cause, but it’s also easier than ever in our modern “any excuse to have a party is a good excuse” culture, to co-opt and derail a cause by making it into a party, rather than a protest. Protests don’t have to be aggressive or violent, certainly, but they also shouldn’t eventually devolve into something resembling the antics in a frat house on a Friday night.
Now, to be totally upfront – I don’t drink, I’ve never been drunk, I’ve never been high, and I still don’t see any need to change that in my life. I admit when I was younger I was very well influenced by propaganda that all pot smokers were useless burnout stoners, and my experiences around alcohol as a kid/teenager didn’t help either. Basically, I’ve had more negative experiences around “mind altering substances” than positive ones, and have made a deliberate decision to live a fully sober, clear life (to quote Warrel Dane, “there is no stronger drug than reality”). To not get distracted or sidetracked by these things. I don’t feel they’re necessary for happiness, but I also don’t begrudge those who choose to partake, when done responsibly. But I am seemingly very much in the minority on this.
I think what we need to remember, and strive for, and not get pulled away from, is that activism is a community effort, a sharing of the battle for change to benefit everyone. My suggestion would be to do your protest or demonstration first, and then have a party after to celebrate the progress you’ve made. I don’t know that the party and the demonstration should be simultaneous. Yes, Gay Pride (as an example) has become much more accepted, and sure let them celebrate this progress, but more work still needs to be done and by the sounds of it, it’s basically just an all day party now. As Karen pointed out, it has become like a cordoned-off circus that is easy for outsiders to ignore and dismiss, because they’re not really protesting anymore, they’re just preaching to their own choir.
Another great example is how 2013’s Nuit Blanche art festival got overrun (from many accounts) by “drunken surburban kids”. They weren’t interested in the art, the ideas, the message, they were interested in screwing around, causing trouble, and laughing at others’ expense. Again, not everyone who drinks is destined to ruin it for everyone, but I think in these situations, the people in charge need to watch out for troublemakers who show up with intoxicant already in hand.
Yes, making it a party gets more attention and exposure, but it also reduces legitimacy. It makes it easier for the media to downplay the cause as unrealistic, unfocused and not needing to be taken seriously (a la the Occupy Wall Street critics).
That’s why I think you should save the party for after the protest, because then it’s much harder to denounce the cause, and it forces outsiders to take it more seriously. I just keep asking myself “why do we as a society feel the need for constant excuses to get drunk and forget our troubles?”. Do we have too many troubles to cope with? Not everyone does, but do the majority? I think we need to address that, rather than seemingly continue to let the trend snowball in the wrong direction.
Fight for your right to have cake, then it will be all the more delicious when you get to eat it in peace!
That’s just my $0.02.