The Other Columbus: Activism and the work of living
Reflecting on the lives of recently passed activists Amber Evans and Rubén Castilla Herrera, I consider the mortal coil of all activists. It is inappropriate to blindly attribute a life of activism as a cause of their deaths, but there is something to be said for recognizing that their fights were against long-institutionalized facets of society, problems that have left gaping wounds on the psyche of entire generations of people. Choosing a life of activism is akin to throwing one's self into a car that is being slowly pulverized so that you might change the oil.
Columbus is different than a lot of cities that have a visible activist base in that the targets of most activism here aren't equally stoked. There aren't many counter marches or shouting matches or massive screeds being swapped around on the issues that a lot of activists here tend to confront. Columbus is a comfortable city across the table from the causes of most activists, and is expanding in ways that shore up the pursuit of bliss. It is harder for activism to succeed here because the rewards in not fighting are so pleasant, so warm, so brand-ready.
More, activism is an unrelenting machine made out of people's humanity. And because the fuel of that engine is dreams, hope, reflection and debate, it is a machine that experiences an excessive amount of social wear and tear. We age out of activism. We fail our activism and sometimes our activism fails us. We are dragged away from our activism by need. We often bring all of ourselves to our chosen causes, including the bad and dramatic and undercooked parts, which is to say we bring our problems into our activism. And we die in our activism.
Activism is fluid, always fighting to be a better activism, but not always winning that fight. It is important to remember that there are lives behind the signs and bullhorns, lovers behind every manifesto and photo-op. There are living, breathing human beings behind these causes, and if you are one of them, I beg you to fit one more item onto your respective agendas: Remember to live.
As someone who transformed his contributions to various causes over the years from a street model into cultural and intellectual forms, I implore all of us to remember the humanity of those who have fallen, and seek the same in those who remain. Let the work of Amber and Rubén remind us of our collective fights, always, but let the lives of Amber and Rubén also remind us to truly and joyfully live.
Any movement that does not allow you your humanity is a movement that cannot and should not succeed.