I’m Sick and Tired of “Activists”

Activist /ˈæktəvɪst/ — noun

  1. an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause, esp. a political cause.

At 57, I’m a latecomer to the world of political activism. I didn’t move from “reader” to “doer” until after the 2000 selection. In 2004 I gave money for the first time, volunteered for the first time, and experience my first campaigns from the inside. In 2006 I helped (in a small way) get John “Congressman Awesome” Yarmuth elected, and 2008 I volunteered all over the place, including taking vacation to walk precincts and make calls in various states.

And now, in 2010, I am writing to say that I am sick and tired of “activists.”

This year in Kentucky we have two significant opportunities that no one predicted:

  • Switch Jim Bunning’s Senate seat from R to D by electing Jack Conway over Rand Paul, and
  • Take back the Kentucky State Senate by electing Marty Meyer over Dan Seum.
I could give you the details on both races, but the bottom line is simple: conventional wisdom said these should both be R wins, but a confluence of events have moved them into reach for Dems.

So what’s my problem? It’s quite simple, really:

We’ve got a shitload of “activists” but damn few ACTIVISTS.

I’ve walked for Marty Meyer the past three weekends. Each weekend I’ve asked how many people are out walking, and the answer is always the same — 5 to 10. In my mind, I try to cut people some slack: “Well, it’s hot, it’s soccer season, it’s back-to-school time.” I tried to ignore the obvious answer — “Bruce, you’re putting in crazy work hours, volunteering at church, and trying to write a book, yet YOU find the time.”

Yesterday was supposed to be a BIG turnout day for Marty. A local club was supposed to send over walkers, and some other groups were also supposed to show up. When I got to Marty’s headquarters, I asked how many extra walkers had shown. The answer? Two.

That just ripped it for me. How the hell are we supposed to take advantage of this opening in front of us if NO ONE WILL GET OFF THEIR ASS AND ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING? And it’s not like we’re asking the impossible; we’re not asking people to spend hundreds of dollars traveling, or take time off from work, or go convince Tea Party Republicans to vote Democratic. ALL WE’RE ASKING IS A FEW HOURS ON A SATURDAY, AND WE CAN’T GET THE “ACTIVISTS” TO EVEN GIVE THAT.

And another thing — where are the party leaders? I don’t see THEM out walking, or showing up at phone banks. In fact, one campaign treasurer told me that most of the local party leaders had NEVER DONATED TO THE PARTY. How the hell do you sit on the leadership board and NEVER WALK, NEVER CALL, and NEVER DONATE?

You want a bullet list in this rant? Here you go:

  • I’m sick and damn tired of people who want the limelight at the annual Wendell Ford Dinner, but are too lazy to give two hours on a Saturday to actually meet voters.
  • I’m sick and damn tired of people who come to meetings and applaud the Democratic talking points and cheer the Democratic speakers, but then turn around and won’t give money or time to get those Democrats elected and those talking points turned into policies.
  • I’m sick and damn tired of people who have time to read blogs and write blogs and bloviate across the intertubes, but don’t have time to man a phone bank or walk a precinct or even stuff envelopes or put out signs.
  • And I’m DAMN sick and tired of people who want to be called “activist” but don’t know how to be ACTIVE!
So to all of you out there who read my blog, or read this on Daily Kos, or otherwise know me in some political context:

— If you aren’t willing to give time and money to make a difference and to get Dems elected, as far as I am concerned you are an “activist” — someone who loves to piss and moan, but can’t be bothered to do more than read blogs and write comments in order to maintain your TU status.

— If, on the other hand, you actually show up with checkbook or calendar in hand, asking “what can I do to help us win,” then you get the title of Activist. YOU’RE the ones who make the change happen, YOU’RE the ones who give me hope that democracy “of the people” might survive. And you’re the ones whose hands I will shake on election night.

3 thoughts on “I’m Sick and Tired of “Activists””

  1. I would posit that in these times, participation in online conversation about elections does indeed move votes. Frankly, we live in times where the virtual has pretty much replaced the spatial, for better or worse. I don't think it should be so downplayed that organization and discussion via the Internet have helped your favored candidates' candidacies. They likely have done so.

    Also consider that people work more these days to maintain the same standard of living, and on top of that, people generally aren't in good physical shape like they used to be.

    Is the above excuses? yes. But it's also reality as far as I can tell.

    But here's what I think the clincher is with regard to any specific race: What has the candidate done to make people want to FIGHT for them? If you figure that out, and remedy any related problems, you might see a lot more ACTIVISTS showing up.

    By the way, thank you for working so hard. Just don't make yourself a martyr over it. Not worth it for your mental health. You can't MAKE others act.

  2. Thanks, Steve, both for reading and for commenting.

    I don't disagree that online activity can be a form of activism. But until we have a way to get everyone to read our online stuff, the value of door-to-door is still strong. Yesterday I was able to bring Marty's race to the attention of many people who either hadn't heard of it at all or hadn't really thought about who they would support. Without tooting my horn, I think that my three hours of walking may have gained him 20 or more votes.

    It's a horribly inefficient way to go — a large majority of households wind up NH for "not home," which probably includes persons who just won't answer the door. But, it is also proven to be one of the best ways to get people to pay attention to a particular race.

    And, I'm not trying to be a martyr. I'm just so fed up with people who want to see change, or want to see Dems win, but aren't willing to DO anything about it.

    Thanks, again, for reading. And perhaps, if I ever get to run for office, I can give you and others someone to be excited about. 🙂

  3. Those of us who cross paths during these weeks know and see many who do try to make a difference in these races. As for the so call Party leaders and elected ones, many things could be said about their lack of support. Keep up the work Bruce and I will see you on election night for either a hand shake or hung, win or lose.

Comments are closed.