The Accidental Activist ?

My life as a Social Worker, taught me that little things matter.

Small acts, can make a difference. And small acts done repeatedly or by enough people, can make a big difference.

And whilst I have left the daily activities of Social Work behind, not all of the Social Worker in me has retired. And essentially, as you may have read here, this is why I started The B Side.

I believe too that I was able to move from wanting to do it, to feeling able to, because a lot of people each did one little thing.

In February 2017, I wrote a rather lengthy Facebook post about marriage. 185 people liked it and 67 commented.

This was not something I expected. But this response got me thinking that maybe there were people who might resonate with and benefit from, my experiences and musings.

So not only did I instantly feel supported, I suddenly felt like I could move from WANTING to DOING. And, perhaps still make a difference in the lives of others.

So, I decided to write.

My mission?

To tell stories, and in doing so, provide people with evidence that they can survive anything. Or start again. And maybe even some kind of blueprint with which to do it.

So, could I become an activist?

Challenging aspects of the status quo of my society and times’ ?

(Crozier De-Rosa and Mackie 2017 p 5)

Maybe.

Albeit, accidentally.

Because people liked something I did. And I started to do more of it.

And who knows how much more that could grow.

The Accidental Activist. I like it. I’m going with that.

Photo Bernie Ryan

However as quickly as I started to feel a little warm about where this was going, the chilly wind of criticism blustered in with the phrase ‘Armchair Activism’.

Which, apparently refers to those little things people did for me, and which I do for others, like ‘liking’ and sharing online. The poor cousin it would seem, to real – world activism of ‘putting bodies on the line’

(Whitehead 2018).

A ‘Slacker’ form of Activism?

And to twist that derogatory knife a little more, it is also now referred to as ‘Slacktivism’  – an online form of ‘self -aggrandising politically ineffective activism’ (Cabrera, Matias and Montoya, 2017 p 400 ). Something, which is more about making ourselves look or feel good than actually making a difference. Things which are done easily and ‘performed with little effort’. (Christensen 2011)

Ouch.

I do agree that there will always be a need for action that occurs off line in order to effect change. And that we ought be mindful that ‘true social progress will not occur on social media alone’ ( Cabrera et al 2017 , p12 ).  

However, is it accurate to say that because a thing can be done with less effort, it cannot still be useful or effective?

It’s a bit like saying that ordering my groceries online is not as useful or effective as me traipsing down on foot to the supermarket.

I know which one I prefer.

This week, I talked with Dr Anita Hutchison about this, and in particular, whether digital activism deserves the slacktivism rap it has acquired.

Dr Anita Hutchison
Photo supplied with permission

Dr Hutchison is from the group Doctors Against Violence Toward Women ( DAVTW). A group who are not only raising awareness but successfully recruiting support for change. Including recently the #SackAlanJones movement. Something which has now resulted in over 100 sponsors withdrawing their support from Alan Jones, and a planned review into his breakfast show.

Cover Image

“laptop-woman-03298” by tlcj878 is licensed under CC0 1.0 

Good on you Dr Hutchison and your colleagues and supporters.

What’s wrong with working smarter, not harder anyway?

So Ok, one might once have associated activism with only labour – intensive actions like The Women’s March in 2017, involving 5 million people across 81 nations, (Crozier De-Rosa and Mackie 2017).

2017, Women March
“2017 Women’s March in D.C.” by Polly Irungu is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

But one now has to wonder how those 5 million marchers were called to action in the first place and then organised.

I’m going to hazard a guess that it wasn’t via ‘snail mail’.

So thanks to you Dr Hutchison, I’ve been reminded that the little things do matter.

Especially to people like you who might become Accidental Activists as a result.

Because if what I am doing is motivating you to continue your efforts out there (Gong 2015, p99), that’s a slackness I’m happy to live with.

References

Cabrera, N., Matias, C. and Montoya, R. (2017). Activism or slacktivism? The potential and pitfalls of social media in contemporary student activism.  Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 10(4), pp.400-415.

Christensen, S ( 2011 ) Political activities on the Internet: Slacktivism or political participation by other means? First Monday Journal. Volume 16, number 2.

Crozier-De Rosa, S. and Mackie, V. (2018). Remembering women’s activism. Routledge.

Duke, J. (2019). Alan Jones breakfast show to undergo ‘full review’: Macquarie chairman. [online] The Age. Available at: https://www.theage.com.au/business/companies/alan-jones-breakfast-show-to-undergo-full-review-macquarie-chairman-20190910-p52pqs.html [Accessed 14 Sep. 2019].

Gong, R. (2015). Indignation, Inspiration, and Interaction on the Internet: Emotion Work Online in the Anti-Human Trafficking Movement. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 33(1), pp.87-103.

Whitehead, J. (2018). Are You Sitting Comfortably? DIVA Magazine.

Soundtrack for Soundcloud Podcast – ‘Bumbling’ –

https://freemusicarchive.org/genre/Instrumental/?sort=track_date_published&d=1&page=3

Time to get real – Um, things only work when we do !

” The Artist is frustrated not because the passage is slow, but because he imagines it to be fast ”

– Art and Fear –

This one line, represented an immediate epiphany for me.

And if you are a frustrated creative which, let’s face it, most of us are in some way or another – how is this quote sitting with you?

Have you also just now been blindsided by the realisation that you may have held unreasonable expectations of yourself and the creative process for like, oh, I don’t know, FOREVER !?

Or is it just me who is coming to grips with the possible source of a lifetime of angst ?

AKA, the unconsciously held belief that talented and successful people for the most part, find ‘art making’, in any form, fairly swift and painless in comparison to the rest of us.

Yes, yes, of course I knew that some practice and effort was involved, but ultimately far less than I seem to have wrestled with.

And as a result, this other blessed lot, get to spend more of their lives basking in the delight of their far more easily acquired accolades and success.

Like Santa at a pre school Christmas concert.

They just breeze through their creating, because, well, they are just bloody creative !

And so here I’ve been, languishing on what I now know to be the fantasy train and spending a lot of time whilst there, in awe of all these blessed and gifted others.

And feeling just a little bit, ugh, yep..

Jealous.

#noreallyimhappyforyou
via GIPHY

So who am I talking about?

Well, you know, those groovy free spirited fourth generation musicians who were born to create hits whilst simply standing in the shower, or sitting at a campfire.

The people with guitars and messy but cool hair who need only their genetically acquired talent to marry a melody with lyrics.

As easily as pairing up socks.

( Maybe not the best analogy if you’ve been to my house.. but anyway … ).

And those writers, who sit in cottages peering into fireplaces ( there’s always a fire in my fantasies…. ) and sipping red wine whilst churning out books, articles and blogs in a brilliant stream of flawless consciousness.

Often before breakfast.

Yep, wine before breakfast. That’s what happens in their perfect world.

And it doesn’t make them sick either.

And let’s not forget the confident orators blessed with the gift of the gab, accurate memories and articulate finesse.

Telling their stories on the radio or telly without an ‘um’ or a ‘like’ any which way to be found. Perfect in every way.

For Gods’ sake.

And here I’ve been for what seems an eternity, screwing up bits of paper, deleting things, rolling my eyes and stomping about the many houses we’ve moved in and out of.

Whose floorboards were no doubt glad to see the back of me.

And sometimes my kids. And husband. Yikes.

And time and again I’d arrive back at the only conclusion I could ( or so I thought )…

That because I have not been able to churn out a Harry Potter novel or a ‘Candle In the Wind’ hit tune in one fell swoop – I just do not have what it takes.

And should therefore give up.

I feel you Lucy…
via GIPHY

Yep. Perfectly rational.

Thankfully however, a couple of months ago in yet another deft move, my super sleuthing therapist served up a juicy watershed moment when she handed me the little ‘Art and Fear’ book.

I wasn’t sure where she was coming from when she did it, as we were relative newbies to each other.

However in an act of faith ( she did come highly recommended ) I took the book. And read it. Even though I rolled my eyes ( on the inside of course ) at the title’s inference, that I could be afraid of writing or singing.

I mean please.

These two things are all I have ever wanted to do, in terms of a career. Or hobby.

As if I would be frightened of that!

Although only a few pages in, I worked out that I could be.

Or am.

” It’s much easier to admire our heroes from afar, than to be our own lesser version of those qualities ”

– Owning Your Shadow –

Robert Johnson

( No prizes for guessing who gave me that book also. Lol ).

So yep. It’s a bit scary to really put ourselves out there.

Much easier to live with the possibility of “If Only, One Day… “

Not to mention the realisation that we are also likely afraid of actually having to WORK hard for our success.

What???

Yep. Way too hard.

via GIPHY

So, it turns out that talent isn’t enough after all, and in fact, isn’t even always necessary, as long as one applies a few other practices and principles ( Get the book ! )

And that my fantasy has been a load of rubbish.

Can you believe that all this time, people have been out there WORKING HARD at their crafts??

That’s ok, it only took me 50 YEARS to work this out…. 🙄
via GIPHY

What the actual hell.

Yes, it seems that whilst I’ve been sooking and envying and having a crack here and there, they have been…

Writing and editing. Shooting and re taking. Painting and turfing stuff out. Recording and re recording. Trying and failing. Swearing and stomping. Staring at blank pages and silent keyboards. Getting up early and going to bed late. Submitting and being rejected. Missing their kids. Practicing and learning. Starting and stopping. Stopping and starting. And here’s the coolest thing.

NOT QUITTING.

And for most of my life, despite WANTING to write songs and tell stories, I just haven’t followed all the way through with enough gusto because of this nifty little dream wrecking combo:

COMPARING ONESELF WITH OTHERS + BELIEVING THAT SUCCESS COMES EASILY + LIFE BEING A LITTLE TOO COMFORTABLE

= GIVING UP.

I remember once hearing a story about a man with a dog sitting tied up in a yard always whining.

His neighbour asked what was wrong with the dog. The owner stated that the dog was sitting on a nail. So the neighbour asked the logical question as to why the dog didn’t just get off it. To which the owner replied

” It just isn’t hurting enough”.

Yup.

And similarly, Bayles and Orland say this:

” Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of ‘not working’ “

Bam.

So with the help of my therapist, my PTSD necessitating career redirect, my fabulous Deakin Uni lecturers tutors and classmates, and of course a whole stack of people who love me, I have gotten down to work.

Realising that it will take learning, practice, mistakes, vulnerability, inconvenience, humility, persistence, resilience, patience, grit. Fear and courage.

And not quitting.

And hence, as a start, this blog has come to pass.

With all the challenges and successes that I will do my best to share within it as you and I navigate the B Side of our lives, for whatever reason.

Because it just got too painful for me, not to do what I love and discover who I am.

And I realised that I simply have to do the work bit by bit, and love doing it regardless of where it leads.

And in the process, perhaps share a few things with you as I bumble along.

On that note and in the interest of transparency I can tell you that this blog post did indeed take ages, required a lot of editing and back spacing and quite the few deletion of GIFS.

I’ve also been writing it in my flannelette pyjamas, un showered, with messy not- cool hair, and no wine. And it’s now almost 2pm.

And as an extra reality bonus, you may like to watch the following blooper reel to see a little of what occurred in the making of the video in my last post before this one.

So maybe watch that first here, to appreciate what is to come next.

And how things are seldom as easy as they might appear.

It’s not G Rated.

Yep. I swore.

I was going to bleep out the swear words, but I did swear, so what would be the point.

I was on my own, and feeling very frustrated.

And it really did take me soooooo many attempts and a lot of work to arrive at the final product.

Probably like all those other people have had to do.

And like you will.

Just don’t ever think that you can’t do it. Like I once did.

Or that’s it’s too late.

Or that you are too old.

Because. You. Aren’t.

Bernie xxxxx

PS – Oh – and do get these books:

Art and Fear – David Bayles and Ted Orland

Owning Your Own Shadow – Robert A Johnston