Privilege and Oppression

How to Confront Apathy, Acceptance, and Activist Diversion

My post last week looked at 3 ways of limiting changemakers. This week I wanted to analyze methods we can use to counter these “3 As” of apathy, acceptance, and activist diversion.

Just as a reminder here’s a short overview of the “3 As.”

Apathy – “indifference” and/or “not caring”

Acceptance – believing the “way things are” is the only option at the moment

Activism Diversion – Shifting passionate individuals to ONLY

  • Provide social services to meet immediate needs, instead of also addressing larger institutions and systems
  • Make societal transformations through policy
  • Rely on institutions to have financial backing/“legitimacy”

So now let’s go over some ways to confront the “3 As.”


1. Confronting apathy…it’s a matter of dedication


Folks may be apathetic for any number of reasons, so the most important principle to keep in mind (and actually for all of these) is to avoid making assumptions about why someone may seem “not interested.”

Spend time working with the individual or group and show your commitment to them. Moving away from an indifferent mindset takes time, so don’t give up on them even if it takes a while.

Share stories rather than statistics. For those who are undecided on an issue, they may just need you to tell them a real example of story that illustrates your point, rather than just “more data.”

Involve people in communities actively on the path or bringing about change.  One person is not always the most convincing, so bring those with an undecided views to groups actually working and so they can see the results themselves.


2. Confronting acceptance…it’s a matter of “giving light”


Ella Baker said “Give light and people will find the way.” If you can illuminate a propelling image of potential actions or a better world, then people will often express their own motivation. You cannot really motivate someone, but you can aid them in realizing the motivation within them.

Try to identify the source of their acceptance (e.g. not believing anything can be done or that they can contribute, thinking that “everything is already being done,” etc.) and see if they are interested in learning about other ways to become more involved in changemaking.

For those that cannot imagine big changes actually happening, show them examples from history and current efforts of groups and movement making significant gains. Often knowing that someone else is not going to intervene (e.g. government) helps move folks beyond the bystander effect to actually investigating how they can take concrete actions.

Consider sharing your personal stories of acceptance since the person you are talking to be at a moment when all they need is to realize that many people feel “acceptance” once or multiple times. I know I go through cycles of emotions around acceptance and I have often needed the support of my community to get back to the work my heart tells me I can do.


3. Confronting activist diversion…it’s a matter of alternatives


Photo: bobchin1941 via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: bobchin1941 via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Work with folks to demonstrate that there are real options for our activist work. Activists want to contribute and support work that brings about a positive world. However, if the only options are going into moderate nonprofits or public policy organizations, then we are deeply limiting the scope of our activist work.

Collaborate to identify pathways to change the current organization. Sometimes it’s not possible to simply change who you are working with (e.g. needing an income to support a family); however, we can create plans to move the groups we are involved with to become more impactful and not perpetuating inaction.

While it goes against common paths (and what might be easier), show why activism cannot be a career. Madonna Thunder Hawk’s article Native Organizing Before the Non-Profit Industrial Complex gives an undeniably clear explanation that as soon as we make activism a career, our interests become more and more invested in maintaining the current organizational status quo and are less willing to do “unfundable” initiatives.

It’s essential we speak up and actively show new ways of making social change in our organizations. I’ve often tended towards the apolitical, but I’ve learned from current and past activists how that supports the powerful. We have to find avenues to mobilize our organizations to reject “neutrality,” reliance on policy reform, and moderate dialogue that ignores institutional oppression (e.g. white privilege).


The ebb and flow of inaction/ineffective action


Apathy, Acceptance, and Activist Diversion take shape in nonlinear fashions, and I know from my own experiences going through these flows that it often takes persistent, dedicated work from both myself and those I know to head in the directions I seek.

Really responding to the “3 As” is about sharing yourself and making sure you don’t feel silenced since most dominant narratives lean towards promoting Apathy, Acceptance, and Activist Diversion.

Sometimes this ebb and flow may take place over the course of a few years, or maybe even just a week. Even if takes a bit longer than we would like, what remains important is to leave open the possibility for moving away from the “three As.”

I see folks in these categories, and other mixtures, nearly everyday which has prompted me to ask “how do we respond to this convergence of inaction and/or ineffective action?” Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

By Drew Serres

Drew Serres began working on Organizing Change to combine his dedication to showing impactful organizing practices with his passion for learning. Find out more about him at the About Page and see his updates on Twitter and Google+