Are you an activist?
On the day that we picked that oiled pelican out of the water near Barrataria Bay, my life changed forever. I know people say that often, but it’s only because our lives are often changing direction. But that day was a dramatic change for me. It was no less than an awakening, and perhaps even a deeper understanding of how we are all connected, how we depend on each other, and how easy it is to lose sight of things that are really important - things that can be lost forever without diligent protection. In that case, it was one of the very things that make life worth living for me in the first place.
I remember the first time someone called me an “activist,” I actually laughed at the idea. I was no activist, I am a mom - of 6, no less. I write for a small town paper. Although I always did feel like there was a responsibility of citizens to keep up with the happenings of their country, I felt disconnected from what THEY did. My plan was to live my life with as much love as possible, grow old, and read to my grandbabies from the rocker of my front porch.
Yet, when that pelican died, he took that Cherri with him. No longer could I imagine a life where I sat idly by, waiting for the Lord’s last breath, while my grandchildren’s world collapsed.
Another cocoon was shed for me during my walk to D.C., when I went through town after town, city after city, field after field, affected by the very same issues we were facing in the Gulf. I met mothers and fathers just like me, and I was amazed at what they had accomplished, and compassionate of what they saw as failures. It was the first time I proudly, and without hesitation, added the name “activist” to my hat.
Photo: Cherri speaks at the Rally for Truth on Grand Isle, Louisiana, November, 2010.
According to Dictionary.com, the word activist means, “an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause.” And I think that is a pretty good book definition.
However, I feel like often when people think of “activists,” words like “tree hugger,” come up. We often have visuals of people screaming, carrying signs, and animated rhetoric. And it is true that is some aspects of activism, especially political activism, that has been and will continue to be a part of any struggle.
But I was thinking, what if there is a different way to view activism?
By the above definition “active,” would simply mean “doing something“. Even by engaging in conversation based around topics of concern to the cause of humanity, we are in fact “doing something,” are we not?
There are very few places that I go that this sort of free exchange of ideas are not taking place, surrounding a myriad of subjects. For a great many people, something deep inside of us is constantly reaching out with the internal wish to make things better.
Why do we have that drive in the first place, if it is not a deeper call from within the universe? Perhaps, in a voice, or a language, that we cannot hear with ears alone. I choose to believe that the language that binds all good works is love. And further, I believe that it can be found at the core of every activist, and every movement.
“Vigorous advocate,” is another term used when explaining the meaning of “activist.” But isn’t the principal of an elementary school who speaks out to the school board for more paper and pencils, “vigorously advocating,” on behalf of her students?
Isn’t every parent who works long hours so that their child can have a better life, “vigorously advocating“?
Advocating simply means acting on behalf of others for their needs. In that way, most of us are “activists.”
So the question becomes, what is a cause?
A “cause,” is anything that requires an activist to advocate in the first place. An injustice or need, small or large, that leads you to take a step towards an action founded in love. It can be as big as the economic future of the world, or as small as making sure that everyone is treated fairly at work, or within your family.
Your cause is up to you, and I have no doubt that you have hundreds of them, and that they are all steeped in your love for someone or for something.
Even in times of silence, in some way, a person is advocating for the oppressor. By your stillness when an injustice is occurring in front of you, you are being “active” in intentionally ignoring the voice of love and compassion of the universe.
Complacent activism is one of the hardest things we as individuals have to face about ourselves, I think. But those that do, tend to get activated real quick. Some of the most committed and “vigorous” activists that I know, were once sure that they would never be.
The point is, wherever you are, whatever you do, you too are and an “activist,” whether you know it or not.
That being said, and although I stick to my earlier position that active activism is always rooted in loving advocacy, I feel it is important to point out that it is not always loving acts that can come from such ideals.
For instance, if your activist message is that which may cause harm to another living thing, without solution based alternatives, than that is not a loving act.
Further, if it becomes a part of your “activism” to destroy or belittle the work of another who is working within your mission, then you are actively countering their message of advocacy. That is not a loving act, that is being a bully.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we may plain disagree on the mission. More often, we disagree on the message, the goals, and the vehicle of obtaining a mission. But that doesn’t mean anyone is wrong. It only means that others are hearing their message differently, and are following a different path of the same love based advocacy.
By using non loving language or disrespectful tone, we could go further and say that you original message is now corrupt, simply because your universal basis is no longer coming from a place of love, but from an egotistical need to be “right.”
I wish you to entertain the notion that when we as activists are able to come to a place where all forms of activism are lovingly respected, and whenever possible - supported, then we may move forward in a rush of greatness for any cause that we desire.
Until that day, there will be people out there who do not share your vision, and they may react negatively to your advocacy. That is okay, we do not always have to counteract them. And when that becomes necessary, cause sometimes it will be, we must choose to do so in a loving and respectful way whenever possible. And that way should be more about building others up, than cutting them down, because really at the base of them, they are only feeling and reacting to the same universal love as you.
Truth is, we are all merely human, and mistakes will be made. Forgiveness is the largest love there is, let’s use it often.
As for your journey, in the words of Dorey, from the movie Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming.”
We are going to get there.
Lastly, I want you to know how thankful I am to be sharing this world with active, loving, people working for the betterment of my children and grandchildren. From the teachers who advocate for my child’s education, to the reputable civil servants who advocate for my grandchildren’s freedom - I sincerely thank you. And further, pledge to you my full support.
Cherri Foytlin is an oil worker's wife, mother of six, Louisiana resident and journalist whose family has been deeply impacted by the BP Oil Disaster and consequential moratorium on deep water drilling. She co-founded Gulf Change, blogs for www.BridgeTheGulfProject.org, and walked to Washington D.C. from New Orleans (1,243 miles) to call for action to stop the BP oil disaster. She has been a constant voice, speaking out to the Obama Administration's Gulf Oil Spill Commission, and in countless forms of media. Cherri will continue her fight for the industries, people, culture and wildlife of south Louisiana and the Gulf Coast "until we are made whole again."