I’ve seen the changemaker diversion industry…as I was nearly diverted myself.
For much of my life I was told (and I believed) that the only way for me to “make a difference” would be to go into a nonprofit or social service job. I even kept thinking about this in terms of what “I can do” or the “help I can give.”
It’s not that nonprofits or social service jobs are wrong (they have an important role), it’s just that the vast majority of this industry today says we can only win small reforms for those most in need and significant change is not possible or is too “political.” This is also that this industry often forces us to hide our own true views because “we don’t want to upset funders” or those with a different view from us.
While I was one step away from fully committing to this particular mode of thinking directed at small changes, there are other ways that can reduce the number of changemakers seeking deep changes.
The “3 As” of apathy, acceptance, and activism careerization
The “three As” of apathy, acceptance, and activism careerization currently pose serious questions for changemakers. For those of us looking to mobilize people, we have to grapple with the challenges of raising understanding, getting folks to act, and making a tangible difference with our own efforts.
Below I have written out a few attributes of folks facing the “3 As” and some reasons for their continued presence.
Apathy – “indifference” and/or “not caring”
One of the biggest challenges we face as organizers and as a society is indifference to injustice.
The celebration of apathy and people not knowing what they “stand for” can be truly frustrating for those wishing to change the rampant exploitation of people across the world.
Some of the causes of apathy include folks who have been privileged and do not have a dire need to intervene in the cause for justice, those who do not truly understand the movements on the frontlines of injustice, or those who have been organizing for a while but feel “burned out.”
Acceptance – believing the “way things are” is the only option at the moment
The idea of acceptance is the sentiment of “compliance” with current systems or that society just has to “wait for change to happen on its own.” People with this mentality may understand some of the world’s injustices, they just tend to believe that they are already taking the best possible course of action or its impossible to shift those in power.
Some of the causes of acceptance include folks who have been influenced by media or culture to not resist, those who do not believe much more can be done, or those who believe that current mechanisms and reformations will actually make changes.
Activism Diversion – Shifting passionate individuals to only work in a small set of parameters
The careerization of activist work, a hidden form of inaction, redirects folks’ driven to solve the “root causes” of problems, into putting their energy in limited, tightly regulated ways that only address the “symptoms”.
INCITE! highlights this rising drain of activists in their analysis of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC). INCITE! highlights that changemakers may desire to make significant changes to benefit the world, but instead get pushed to ONLY
- Provide social services to meet immediate needs (e.g. emergency food relief, housing counseling, etc.)
- Make societal transformations through policy in order to make some changes (e.g. anti-discrimination laws, consumer protection regulations, etc.)
- Rely on institutions to have financial backing/“legitimacy” (e.g. receiving a grant from a foundation that invests in corporations creating environmental damages across the globe)
While providing social services, policy work, or receiving funding/legitimacy, are not bad per se, they do ensure that activists only work in a certain prescribed manner that is not directed at making significant changes in ending cycles of oppression/degradation.
We need BOTH social services and social change. However, right now it’s a lot easier for me to find a social service organization than a social change one.
Next week I’ll be looking at ways to confront the “3 As” that help move us away from responding to the same symptoms year after year, and toward social change that addresses the root sources of our interconnected issues.
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