Activists Who Will Poison Your Movement (Part One)
I was radicalized about 25 years ago, but I haven’t been an activist that whole time; I had to give it up for a while to raise my kids, two of which were special needs when they were little. Now that my kids are older, I have returned to activism in my community. It was so exciting to see all the resistance to Trump, and I was so blessed to meet a ton of great men and women who were a part of that #resistance, and were wholeheartedly committed to their causes.
Unfortunately, though, not everybody has been awesome.
None of us is perfect. All of us have moments of weakness or epic stupidity. But what I was surprised to discover over these past 10 months is that some activists are downright terrible people. Some folks use the movement to fulfill their own, selfish needs. Some folks seem to forget that all this work we do in our communities is on a volunteer basis, and even if they’re “in charge” of the crew or action, they’re nobody’s boss. They seem disappointed when they don’t get to write up or fire people who underperform or practice their activism in ways with which they don't agree. They also seem disappointed that they don’t have the power to censor other activists, especially activists who are not members of their own groups.
I was especially surprised that so many radical activists - those to the far left, way farther left than “liberal” - are so accepting of so many toxic people.
Ultimately, we on the left have to decide what we want. So many of us fall victim to the quicksand of petty accusations and pointless drama. Of course, some of this destabilization can be legitimately blamed on the cops - a group in Colorado Springs was infiltrated by an undercover Sheriff’s deputy that stirred up drama on purpose - but we are all guilty of allowing far too much bad behavior in our groups. Behavior, by the way, we would rarely allow in our personal lives or at work. We have to stop enabling bad behavior if we’re going to effect real change in our communities.
If you really want to effect real change in the world, you have to get rid of the following people:
The Toxic Avenger - They come across as so nice and so normal - albeit a little eccentric - at first. They are especially good at playing the bird with a broken wing … only, trust me, it’s all just play acting. Maybe they’re a “recovering” addict, or a little high strung … maybe they seem to move around a lot, or have a suspicious number of “enemies” … Toxic Avengers are the guaranteed harbinger of death for any group. They never plan actions, they just criticize everyone else’s. They don't seem to want to make the world a better place, they want to watch it burn (and they're making the Molotov Cocktails). Their entire existence seems to revolve around attracting negative attention to themselves. They cling to identity politics like nits on a strand of hair, which they gleefully use as ammo against anyone that dares cross them. They ridicule other identities, even those identities which are far, far, far, far, far ... far, far, far more oppressed than they will ever be. You can’t say, think or do anything to, nearby, or for them without it being wrong. Toxic Avengers will even blissfully destroy your personal life, if you let them. They will inevitably back you into a corner, and even though you know your only road to sanity is purging them, this is usually when you run into …
Jesus - Rarely a practicing Christian, Jesus wants to fix everything and everybody. They love and live for Toxic Avengers. No bad behavior is too bad for Jesus. Jesus is different from regular nice people because regular nice people distance themselves from toxic folks; Jesus goes out of their way to attract and coddle Toxic Avengers. Jesus will fight, tooth and nail, to keep the Toxic Avenger in the group, even if it means alienating or kicking out other members. Jesus usually gets their backup from …
Mr. Popular - These guys can never be popular enough … and, let's be honest: They're all men, because what leftist group puts women in charge?? They are in a constant state of recruitment because YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Their loyalty to other members of the group can be summed up in one phrase: Every man for himself! Mr. Popular needs to recruit POC so he will look better to the activist community (because, let's be honest, he doesn't really get POC), and does it with a creepy desperation that implies he is looking for his Uncle Tom. They avoid conflict and confrontation, because it might make someone not like them. They enable Toxic Avengers to a fault. They apologize to everyone for everything, even if that person was wrong. They constantly look for validation from everybody, but especially from outsiders. Because they need endless validation, Mr. Popular will never get rid of …
Fringe Bennies - You’re not really sure who they are. They rarely come to meetings or actions. They participate on Facebook, but only under fake names that they change often, so you’re never entirely clear with whom, exactly, you’re having a conversation. And then … they show up on the ballot for Board elections. You hear about them going on important meet-ups with groups in other cities. Long-term members proclaim that no decisions can be made without them. And after a month, or two months …. or even three months of going to every single event your group has organized, and not seeing them at even one, you’re wondering how on earth they have a say in anything. Of course, you don’t dare say anything about that because of the …
Word Nazis - If you were a book, they would tear you to shreds before hurling you into a bonfire. They lurk, like trapdoor spiders, waiting for their victim to stumble into a difficult situation and "say the wrong thing.” They police Facebook, Twitter and Instagram like they’re interviewing for a position in the Stasi.
A little fuzzy on white privilege? Don’t worry, the Word Nazis will have some nuclear response to an innocent but problematic post. Didn’t use the “x” in the right place? THERE ARE NO POINTS FOR TRYING! Accidentally misgendered the woman who transitioned five minutes ago, the one who still has a full beard and is wearing men’s clothing? The one you've known as a biological male, with all the trappings, for the past few months or even years? Not to fear! Word Nazis are bringing up the rear with eternal condemnation! They want neither progress nor change. They do little to help their communities; they never plan actions or other events that would actually help anybody.
But I'll let you in on a little secret: People hate Word Nazis more than they fear them. Your best defense against them is networking and communication. They can't police your private messages; they can't control your real life relationships. The Word Nazis' arch nemesis is friendship; you should be making friends - not just allies! - in your community anyway. Real friendship is like kryptonite to Word Nazis, so go out and make some friends and you will discover that you have way more power over the situation than you thought.