This past weekend was one full of activism both close to home and almost 700 miles away. People in both places demonstrated passion for climate action and those impacted by it.Activism, in any place and for any issue, is difficult. You make yourself vulnerable, you claim a truth and you call attention to yourself from peers, community members and the press. Actively demonstrating or fighting for your beliefs takes courage and passion, and it can be argued that there is no one right way to do it.
This vulnerability is common at Goshen College because of how many students have taken to using activism as their way of making peace with issues in our world.
Yet, there is a belief, especially on this campus, that if someone is an activist you cannot question their motives or their actions. The general consensus on campus is that if someone is passionate about something, especially passionate enough to step out and speak up, then the actions that result should not be questioned.
This belief drives many people away from the activists themselves because they feel they cannot ask why someone is doing what they’re doing.
Instead of breaking people apart, activism should bring them together—whether in agreement or in dialogue. Activism does not equal perfection. When you choose to do something to be in solidarity with or to raise awareness for a cause some questions need to be asked. To whom are you directing your concerns? What is your message? How will your message be presented?
The demographic you are choosing to address is the largest factor as it decides whether you fight within your local community or go out to a broader, even national scale.
Whether your decisions lead you to your state courthouse or the nation’s capital, you need to be deliberate about addressing questions like these as your response unfolds into action.
If actions develop without forethought and critique we fall into the place between being activists and being just another person in the masses.
This weekend, people answered these questions differently. Neither march stands above the other as a better choice for climate action activism, but it is important to think critically about why each march was chosen. We need to be able to intentionally reflect on our decisions as activists at Goshen College, and we should be able to have conversations with others about what their activism means without making them feel alienated.
As peers, we should recognize that questioning a motive is not fundamentally negative. Critical thinking that blossoms from questioning can be insightful for both the activists and for the onlookers.
I encourage all of us to think about ways we can think more critically about how we choose to make peace and to be activists.