Get DOWN’s with it.

IMG_5030I have never seen myself as an activist. To be honest, I have never even thought about activism or how it pertains to me before this semester.  I would definitely say that within the last 8 months of my life, that has changed. My youngest brother, William, is only 9 months old and has been diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome. Although my brother is still only an infant, I feel very passionate about not only helping people that have special needs but making sure that they receive every tool in order to succeed in life. It is my goal to become apart of an organization that advocates for children with special needs and specifically children that have Down’s Syndrome. Through this class, I have started my process with working with Best Buddies, a special needs organization, but I still want to do something more. I have invested some of my time into researching different programs and organizations that are all about advocating for special needs, whether it is for adults and helping them to get and keep a job or for children and making sure he/she receives the necessary tools for everyday life. There is an organization called F.R.I.E.N.D.S (Family Resource, Information, and Education Network for Down’s Syndrome), which I am trying to get involved in. F.R.I.E.N.D.S helps out families, they advocate for children that are in the public school system to make sure they are getting the right tools to succeed, they raise awareness throughout communities, etc. So to answer the question, at first I thought activism was just not something I was doing or wanted to do but it is now such a huge part of my life. I want to know that I have helped people that are going through the same things my brother is and will go through so it is not only extremely important to bring awareness about these issues that children and adults with Down’s Syndrome go through but it is an issue that is very close to my heart.

Portrait of a Pseudo-Activist

Throughout my life my family has teased me about being a “hippie” or “too nice” or “sensitive” due to many aspects of my personality, but especially with my career path and things that I like. I volunteer pretty frequently with the homeless, families of children with chronic illness, and at animal shelters. I get emails from World Wild Life Fund and Change.com, however I will readily admit that these emails often get discarded along with those to Bed Bath & Beyond and Living Social. You’ll occasionally see a FaceBook post from me about a homeless shelter in need of volunteers or the latest documentary on Elephant poaching, but other than that, I have a very underdeveloped activist identity.

As a future social worker, advocacy will be a huge part of my career. Certainly there are varying degrees of involvement with advocacy and activism; however, I fear that if I do not learn more now, I will lose opportunities to help those in need or make necessary changes to benefit others. While I understand that there is a sliver of activism in my life through things so small as social media posts and sharing documentaries, currently, my relationship with activism is abysmal. I hope that with this class I will become a less passive activist and more directly involved in advocating for change.

We Know Our Rights!

One activist movement that really inspired me was something that I learned about last semester in my Gender Women Studies 100 level class. For homework one week we were given an assignment to watch the movie Made in L.A. which is a documentary film that follows these immigrant women around L.A. and tracks their progression as the fight the clothing company Forever 21 to get better working conditions for the workers in sweat shops. These women left their families in their home countries so that they could give them a better life in a country that they thought had great jobs and equal opportunity to be sadly mistaken. Since a lot of them were not legal in the United States or didn’t know a proficient amount of English the job pool was limited.

Working in the sweatshops was all they had left for as an option. Sweatshops typically look for women workers because their hands are smaller so they can micromanage detail in the line and because women are less likely to speak out to unfair conditions. This sweatshop was wrong on that point. These women fought Forever 21 every day for a couple of years, this included going to other parts of the country and educating people about the conditions in sweatshops and going to other forever 21’s and telling them about what happens behind the scenes. At one point they even went to the house of the CEO of Forever 21 and marched and protested there! After a couple of years of difficulties getting people to protest and getting their voices heard they finally had a court hearing with Forever 21 and their lawyers and were able to win the case of granting better hours and conditions in the sweat shops. These women were not legally citizens, yet they knew their rights as human beings and did everything in their power to improve the conditions they were under and succeeded.

Who is an activist?

The reality of education’s often unbalanced approach to handling bullying issues hit me. Victims become perpetrators and perpetrators, supposedly unwitting victims. During his attendance at my brother’s alternative middle school, Sean expressed many insightful comments. For example, he knew that being black brought with it unspoken prejudice, and pointed to the Trayvon Martin case as evidence. Sean and our dad had watched the Trayvon Martin case carefully and I watched my little brother struggle with harsh truths of prejudice and friendship. Yet through it all, Sean also did something that startled me: He spoke.

Ok, fine, in many cases he would only share his frustrations with me. Remember, he is  only 12 and mom is still “weird” to talk to in his mind… but his unnerving maturity sprinkled with the breaking of innocence pricked me. On many occasions he shared the dichotomous feelings he felt about the education he received at the alternative middle school compared to the school he had been suspended from. “Big Sister, although I don’t want to be at this school [alternative middle school] they know how to teach me”. Sean had even been bumped to higher level reading classes, something at the previous school he worked hard to reach but never attained.

Although Sean did not share these frustrations on a nationwide anti-bullying campaign tour, his vocalizations made an impact on me. He still played with the neighborhood kids, although he expressed his embarrassment in doing so. He felt the hurt when a previous classmate seemed  to hide from him in the grocery store. He explained that he knew he was not the violent kid that some might want to depict him as but knew he could very well become that, simply out of tiredness of trying to prove otherwise.

I remember being the bully at his age. Tired of being bullied myself, I became the 6th grade tyrant of psychological warfare (I am too ashamed to call it abuse). I related to the depth of some of the hurt my brother felt while being bullied and also realized the negative repercussions being the victim of bullyinghas. I got pissed because I knew and still strongly believe, like the 6th grade version of myself,  Sean’s bullies need help. Help in realizing they to are hurting as they are hurting others. I bullied because I wanted control back, I wanted the power I  felt I lost. If activism is just handing out flyers on a street corner, proclaiming a cause or launching class action lawsuit, Sean is not an activist. But if at its fundamental core, part of activism, is simply speaking out, then Sean is activist.

Sean’s thoughts lead me to change my profile picture to “I was a bully”. I needed to admit that what I did was not right and hopefully to urge others to do so too. Although it did not have the intended effect, and only caught my friends by surprise, it presented an opportunity to admit a part of myself, that has since been changed, and desires even more, thanks to Sean, to do something about it.

History of an Activist: Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley

In the eighteenth century, Mary Wollstonecraft almost certainly raised eyebrows with her writing on the rights of women. Her work greatly inspired the feminist movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1792, Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. This was a bold move, especially in her time- the book argued that women are not actually inferior to men, contrary to what society led people to believe at the time. According to Wollstonecraft, women only appear to be inferior to men because they lack education. A parallel to this argument is seen in Wollstonecraft’s daughter’s work of Frankenstein, in the character of Elizabeth Lavenza.

Mary Wollstonecraft is considered to be one of the early feminist philosphers of the eighthteenth century. As she studied, she found that many of her problems stemmed from the current social situation- what we nowadays call the patriarchy. She saw that “priveleged and educated men systematically denied education and autonomy to women” (BBC History). With this knowledge, her confidence in her intellectual abilities grew, and she was able to publish A Vindication of the Rights of Men anonymously in 1790, and then A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.

In my eyes, I look at Mary Wollstonecraft as a very daring feminist and an activist. In her time, women were even more

oppressed than they were in the early twentieth century. It was not even a matter of whether or not women could vote- women were frequently considered property and good only for getting married and having children. After it was discovered that her works were actually written by a woman, they were widely ignored in academic circles. I look at her as radical and daring for her time- in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she dares to address female sexual desire, and how it was something that needed to be “controlled” within society.

Mary Wollstonecraft was a great influence to her daughter, Mary Shelley, who (as previously mentioned) went on to write Frankenstein.

Sources:

 BBC History: Professor Janet Todd

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/wollstonecraft_01.shtml

How Tumblr Inspired Me to Be an Activist

In my own life, I didn’t think of myself as an activist until I got a Tumblr blog. Tumblr is a blogging and social networking platform that allows people to post content in a blog form. When I got a Tumblr, I was a junior in high school who was just starting to get into feminism. I called myself a feminist, but only within my own circle of friends because I was not only worried about being made fun of, but was also worried that I was going to be extensively quizzed on what I believed in, when all I knew at that time was I just wanted equality for women. I was also having a hard time finding a community with a similar mindset because my county is pretty conservative, and a lot of feminist communities online were mainly comprised of women in their late 20’s and their early 30’s. Getting a Tumblr exposed me to many different kinds of people and their own unique problems that I never would have known about or met in my rural county. Reading about these people and their struggles gave me new perspectives outside of my own cisgendered, heterosexual, white viewpoint. It armed me with enough knowledge to know when it is my place to talk when it comes to topics that don’t necessarily apply to me (i.e. race, being outside the gender binary, etc.), and it gave me the confidence to start calling people out, online and offline, when they do something grossly offensive.

 

Many individuals would call my kind of  activism ‘slacktivism’ because much of what I do is online instead of chaining myself to a tree or working huge fundraisers. To be honest, I’m not a fan of the term ‘slacktivism’. First of all, it’s not possible to be an activist and a slacker, because you have to be ‘active’ to be an ‘activist’. Secondly, just because I’m not drawing up several petitions up at a time or have my governor on speed dial doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything to attempt to better society. Even if I’m just telling someone how excluding trans women from feminism isn’t really feminism, I’m still doing something to improve my community.

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I can take the blue out of me, but never the activism.

I am an activist, of a sort. My activism is rarely for the greater good of the world but instead for the greater good of a certain set of people. I am an activist for rights for trans* people of all gender identities and skin colors and class. I am an activist for those people who have to deal with cissexism on a daily basis, who are afraid to correct well-meaning people on pronouns and words, who are afraid of what some consider simple words, but to us, they are swords and knives and arrows and maces. We are afraid of living our lives because someone may decided they would rather we didn’t, and remove us from it. I am rarely an activist for cis people because they already get activists and generally some of the best. I am an activist for equal rights, for removing discrimination, for getting rid of the ability for people to not hire us or not give us shelter simply because we do not fit their binary, or do but in a way that makes them uncomfortable. I am here to help trans* people live safer lives and to have representation in the media, not just for the straight trans* people, but for ALL trans* people.

 

My activist story starts in April of 2012, when at the age of 21, I finally came out as transgender. I had had feelings for years, but I didn’t have concrete knowledge until that month, and a weekend during it to be precise. I came out, and when I came out, it came with something I did not expect; a caring about people. This is not to say that I am callous or didn’t care about others. But, before coming out, I did not much care of those who I didn’t know. But, when I came out, and months later, I cared about the rights and lives of trans women all over the world, and transgender men as well, but to a very slightly lesser degree (one looks out for those extremely like them ahead of those who are mostly like them). I became a small ways activist, I helped others to know what was going on, and I tried to make sure that I advocated for better rights and lives for transgender people. A year and a half after starting hormones, and I am far more invested in the betterment of the lives of transgender people. And, the abolishment of things which were put in place against us, such as what Janice Raymond has done with her book and her beliefs and those who agree with her.

Being transgender means that you are faced with more problems than you were before, and they are problems that can stretch across racial boundaries. They are ones such as survival, bathroom use, and healthcare. Being trans means that you could be killed for being yourself, you might not be able to use the bathroom which applies to your gender and not your sex, and that getting healthcare can be even harder than it was before. Trans people of color still have it more difficult in many ways, but all trans people are brothers and sisters and siblings in that they share a difference of what they were assigned at birth.

So, my story is simple and basic: I am a trans woman and thus I will always advocate for the rights and basic allowance to live for trans people.

Portrait of a Non-Activist

I am not an activist. It seems like in order for me to advocate for anyone, I would have to have a network of support for any actions that could potentially have negative consequences both emotionally and financially. I don’t have this network of support, so I have to support myself, and sometimes that means putting up with sexist behavior. I used to think that the constant stream of sexual harassment by middle-aged men was part of my job description. The more I smiled and sucked it up, the more I got paid. I was a government contractor. No one else was going to support me if I couldn’t support myself. If I chose to speak up about any negative treatment, perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten fired, but I would have not had the opportunity to advance my career.

I did not grow up with radical parents who encouraged me to contribute something to my community. There was no community. My parents actively discouraged me from “rocking the boat” in any form. The best thing I could do was to assimilate and get along. That is how people achieve “success.” I guess I tried that for a while, and eventually quit my job to go back to school, and with my background, it is a miracle that I have even ended up in a Gender and Women’s Studies class. Although I have changed the way I think about discrimination, I have done very little to call people out for it. I’m working on becoming more comfortable speaking out against social injustice.