I have always spoken out about important issues because I thought it was just the normal thing to do. Over the past few days, I have had some conversations with people I am close with that have made me realize how polarizing of an issue activism really is.

In reaction to the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, I reacted by saying something like, “I don’t understand how this can happen” because in my perspective, many things are unknown, but two things are definitely true: 1. Climate change is real. 2. The United States is one of three major countries contributing the most to energy depletion and carbon emissions. While I am having this very matter-of-fact internal dialogue, every single news app and social networking platform in my plane of existence is filled with argumentative chains regarding whether or not this was a good decision. Now, I understand that the most prevalent issue in American society right now is how divided our population is due to politics. This has been the case for all of American history. Yet through all of this, I find it very hard to accept the fact that people think that scientific proof supporting climate change’s existence is controversial. Somehow, science is correlated with the “liberal agenda.”*** Nonetheless, hundreds of years of empirical data and 99% identical DNA between chimpanzees and humans still leads dozens of American public school systems to teach evolution as an “unsettled controversy.”

I have felt the need to lean in to the term activism because the harsh truth is that many people believe that equality and safety for future generations are issues separate from the mainstream. Whether it be responses to girl power performance art as “not the right time or place to do something like this” or a shocking response when I ask someone to not say phrases like “that’s not very ladylike,” the fight for equality is yet to be perceived as an everyday occurrence. I’m not sure what “this” is, but assuming it is women’s issues, then it is always the correct place and time. As a woman, I do not have the liberty to schedule a specific time to fight for my rightful place in education, society, or the workplace. It’s something I have to do at every moment of every day, because I know that defying roles and expectations is the only way that me, or any other woman, will achieve what we want. Maybe I identify with the term activist because working for equality is such a major aspect of my identity. Adapting any title with the suffix -ist means you spend a lot of your time dedicated to that one particular thing. Activism isn’t a hobby. I am an activist, or maybe I have had to be an activist. 

I have come to the conclusion that some people believe I have spoken up about issues related to gender, race, and sexuality purely for the goal of being controversial. When I tell someone about my involvement with Planned Parenthood, for example, I don’t think twice. I know with confidence that Planned Parenthood is providing crucial services for a diverse group of people, and that only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services are related to abortion. Stigmas are the only reason anyone reacts negatively to statements like these. Many women say “I’m not a feminist” because they are only aware of the stereotype and stigmatized version of the term. In reality, advocating for these issues is not controversial. The controversy stems from a lack of education about the topics that everyone is too afraid to discuss.

Effort is one of the primary reasons why there is still such an existing divide between people who consider themselves “activists” and those who don’t. I have heard first-hand people refer to being sensitive as exhausting. Did the people saying this put any thought into how much more effort it is taking them to provide reasoning for being insensitive? The world many never know. Whether or not you think it is “important” or “worthy of your precious time” to be sensitive to global issues, there is much more to be exhausted by in this world than using a non-derogatory term or donating to the ACLU.

We are much more alike than we are unalike. If you love to talk about your opinions but are “exhausted” by thoughtful dialogue regarding progress, then you are directly creating the societal divide that our population is suffering from currently. Activism is neither exhausting nor controversial, because if any of the solutions to something include 1.) read a book. 2.) donate money or time. 3.) google it, or 4.) spread the word about it… then maybe it isn’t so unrealistic for you to put the effort in to set aside stigma and start enacting change.

*** If the “liberal agenda” is to reduce emissions, improve the environment for future generations, and promote universal and intersectional equality, then sign me up right away!

Emily Blake