Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Activist By Any Other Name . . .

I am often called an activist. However, I started to wonder what this term really means.

"Activism" and "left-wing politics" tend to go hand in hand. I'm someone who is involved in the peace movement, the environment, and poverty/homelessness. I am active in these causes. Ergo, I am an activist.

However, what about someone who is active with pro-life (anti-abortion) causes? Or who supports the "sanctity of marriage" (anti-gay rights)? Are these people activists, albeit on the other side of the spectrum? Of course they are.

Then, there are people who work for causes that are neither the property of the left or right. Parents who unite against a school closing. Neighbours who get together to form a community watch program. Are these people activists? I would say, very much so.

I find that when the term "activist" is applied to someone to the right, it is qualified with the kind of activist they are. I have heard numerous people referred to as a "pro-life activist" or "an activist for the family" (as if to imply that those of us more to the left don't advocate for our families!).

I have had qualifiers added to my activist moniker (particularly "peace activist), but in most cases, people simply refer to me as an activist. I admit, when I am told about someone else and am told that person is an activist, thoughts of marches and rallies pop into my head. (Although that is not an entirely accurate stereotype either, as there are indeed marches and rallies for right-wing causes).

However, the true definition of an activist is exactly what the word implies: someone who stands up for a cause. The question is then, the type of activist a person is. That is why the English language has adjectives.

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