It's not often that I invoke Gomer Pyle, but it sure was a surprise, surprise, surprise to be voted Best Blogger for the fourth time in five years.
Yo, Yenta! (yoyenta.com) celebrated 10 years in existence last month, and I’m honored that so many of you still find the adventures of a wayward Jewish mother so compelling. If I were the type to curtsey, I’d offer that gesture deeply, but since I’m kind of a klutz, I hope you’ll accept my gratitude and possibly one of those benificent, clasped-handed “Namaste” bows all the celebrities do these days.
You’ve also seen fit to vote me Best Activist, which I’m not sure is a title that I can shoulder honestly. I prefer to think of myself as a court jester, juggling chainsaws and poking at the apathetic with a stick. While the (Civil) Society Column is meant to give plenty of play to the issues affecting us as Savannahians and global citizens, an activist is someone who vigorously advocates for a particular cause. I’m far too big of a spaz to concentrate on just one, though I do have a few favorites. (Is it possible to chain oneself to river deepening equipment?)
Don’t get me wrong, I do love some good subversive rabblerousing. In high school I organized a cafeteria sit-in against then-Arizona governor Evan Meacham’s refusal to sign a bill to create a MLK Jr. holiday, and went door-to-door collecting signatures for his impeachment. This year I helped lead a crew of mischievous knitters in the Green Truck Pub yarnbomb in the name of art and weirdness. I’ve signed a million petitions and marched a thousand miles and written stacks of checks for chump change to hundreds of non-profits.
But when it comes to the front lines of economic and environmental injustice, I’m far more likely to spend my spare time shouting obscenities at my 10-year-old’s soccer game or communing with my kale plants.
The real activists are the ones who never miss a meeting or a conference call, the watchdogs keeping a laser eye on the shady politicians and the greedy CEOs, the men and women camping out in front of the courthouses and handcuffed in the backs of paddywagons.
Environmental activist Claudia Collier says they’re “simply civic-minded individuals who see a real need to keep a check and balance on the power and money folks,” but I have no problem calling them superheroes.
It takes the tenacity of a wolverine to affect the kind of change we need now. In a recent essay about activism, Collier acknowledges that while the press can expose certain realities, a columnist’s keyboard doesn’t contain magical powers (though mine definitely hoards cookie crumbs.) Keeping the greedy accountable takes phone calls and emails and warm bodies, and she tirelessly churns out regular emails collating odious updates on the nuclear shitshow at Plant Vogtle and other energy issues.
Activists keep their shoulders to the boulder year after year, people like Tom Kohler, who has brought dignity to so many through Citizens Advocacy. Albert Strickland and Brett Dykes continue to oxygenate Occupy Savannah, morphing it from a park presence to a solid event calendar and community garden. Laborers need to know about Philly Myers and his band of Ruffians (Retirees Unite For the Future), who have recently instituted a rolling Friday afternoon picket line to raise the minimum wage. (They’ll be at the McDonald’s on Chatham Parkway this week around 5p.m. if you’d like a side of conscience with those fries.)
The port truckers fighting for fair working conditions? They’re activists. I also think of my dear friend, Kim Spencer, pushing for autism medical reform with the Thinking Mom’s Revolution, and Teri Schell, growing our local farming and food movement every Saturday at the Forsyth Farmers Market. There’s the great leveler in the form of literary expression happening with DeepKids after school every week, and how the Ogeechee Riverkeeper folks shamed King America Finishing into doing (almost) the right thing.
Though I happen to have a platform to showcase their work, I probably don’t even know the name of the person most deserving of the honorific of Best Activist, as toiling against the tide of injustice is a thankless and mostly anonymous yoke.
The rest of us know something’s real wrong in our world, a place of tremendous potential and beauty for some and a tragic hellhole for others, where our collective resources are piddled away for the wealth of a few. It’s just that we’re just too busy and tired and maybe the teeniest bit lazy to do much about it. Even if we do write an email to our Congressbots, we’re pretty sure the bastards will continue to blow up mountain tops for coal in Tennessee, dump radioactive waste into the ocean’s darkest depths and fund illegal wars. It’s overwhelming, and we have a sneaking suspicion that humanity’s problems can’t be solved on a case by case basis.
I’m right there with y’all, hiding under the covers and stress-eating GMO pretzels. Some nights my heart can’t handle the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls or the clearcut Brazilian rainforests or the mistreated animals right here at home, and I just zone out on my couch with a full belly in front of Cosmos, though not so complacent that I don’t squeeze my family tight with gratitude.
It’s the activists who inspire me to get up, stand up and—if I don’t have to drive soccer carpool—show up. I transfer a little cash to a PayPal account of a worthy cause and sign another damn petition, then put some paragraphs together so that maybe you’ll do the same. Maybe it will all add up to a revolution. At the very least, it’ll fix some Ecuadorian kid’s cleft palate.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world,” counseled anthropologist and social apostate Margaret Mead. “Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
So rebel against apathy and pick a cause, any cause—and agitate for it, just a little. We don’t have to be the superheroes, but let’s not let them go it alone.