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The Tentacle


April 2, 2003

Activism Has Its Own Calling Card

David 'Kip' Koontz

Throughout history people, ordinary people, have been at that so called "right place at the right time" to become extraordinary. They were moved to challenge the status quo and make changes in order to improve their lives and/or the lives of others.

When this moment in time comes, they are generally unprepared for what has befallen them. It could be that a specific injustice occurred that spurred them to action. It could be that they simply had enough of a burdensome situation and felt it was time to do something about it.

To this end, these "activists," the ones who decided to do something to change the injustices they felt or saw occurring, didnít have time to go off somewhere and study or take courses on how to become an advocate for social justice and change.

Does one think, Mahatma Gandhi, whose activism drove the British out of India, took a class on fasting and peaceful demonstration before he had enough of the British injustice and worked for change? Wonder what the formalized training would have been like?

Would he have taken classes where he sat for hours not eating and being very quiet?

Did Rosa Parks, before refusing to give up her seat on that bus in Montgomery, AL, take classes or courses on how to refuse to give up that seat, or did she just one day "have enough" and decide to do something about the injustice she was experiencing?

You have to wonder what those classes would have been entitled, "Bus Seat Sitting 101," advancing to "Bus Seat Sitting 201" followed by, "Bus Seat Sitting ó Now Donít Move 301," finishing with "I Donít Care What The White Man Says, Donít Get Off That Seat 401."

One has to wonder how many classes in social justice advocacy Martin Luther King, Jr., took before he was moved enough to take action that gave so much to the civil rightís movement?

Same with Caesar Chavez, who organized the grape boycotts. Did he take a "How To Organize A Grape Boycott" class at his local college?

Or how about Betty Friedan, in whose kitchen, it is said, the womens liberation movement began. Did she have formal training in what it meant to demand equal pay for equal work and to be viewed as an equal?

You think she took classes where she learned to burn bras and push for anti-discrimination laws, or how to clearly identify sexual harassment in the workplace -- even before sexual harassment in the workplace was a recognized reality?

Or those men and women of the Mattachine Society, Harry Hay, Frank Kameny, Marilyn Rieger and Pearl Heart, for instance, who in the 50s and 60s made the first attempts toward equality for gays and lesbians. Did they have a course taught to them on how to advocate for "homosexual equality?"

Oh yes, there were lots and lots of study options for gay men and women in the 1950s and 60s to partake of in order to advance their cause.

The list is endless of activists who were just regular folks who had enough and decided to do something to try and improve their condition and make change.

Basically, it seems that when the mood hits someone at just that right time, they do something that, prepared or not, starts that process that may or may not end up changing their set of circumstances.

It also seems, that many of our greatest advocates for social change, did not, nor could not, have any formal training as it did not exist.

Should there even be the criteria of education put upon the men and women who seize the moment to try and make change?

Most of the time, it just seems a passion and steadfastness in purpose that seems to have suited advocates for change just fine.

On the other hand, we can ask: Should those who hold public office have some sort of experience or education before holding that office?

Take Woodrow Wilson, for instance. He was a political science professor. Yet, many analysts agree he was not one the nationís best presidents even with all that formalized training on how to govern --even though he served as governor prior to becoming president.

Abraham Lincoln, however, had no practical governing experience or education on how to govern. Yet most would agree he is, if not the best, in the most upper tier of our greatest presidents because he was passionate about his purpose.

The flip side to that is true as well. Governor Parris Glendening was a government professor at the University of Maryland and was county executive for Prince Georgeís County, yet managed to leave both that county and the State of Maryland with budget deficits upon his departure from office. One would think that with his training and experience he would have done better.

Meanwhile, we have our own mayor, Jennifer Dougherty, who has never served on a public board or commission, admitted to never having attended a mayor and board of alderman meeting before being elected to office and is, well, at this point, doing a rather mediocre, if not poor job of governing.

Seems that it may not always matter if one has training or experience or not, if you are in the right place at the right time and you are called upon to do something that may make a difference in your life or the lives of others. One may or may not succeed regardless of the formal training theyíve had.

Let us just hope that in the future, when someone feels called to act to make change, they donít stop and say to themselves, "Wait I canít do that now. I have to check the class list at my college and see if there is one I can take in order to have the qualifications some think I need in order to take on this cause."

Do you think Moses said that to himself before he led the Israelites out of Egypt and to the Promised Land?



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