New York Times Offers More Advice on Activism

New Orleans       The editorial page editor of the New York Times has embarked on an interesting strategy in recent years.  I’ve made some small comments about this in the past, but the pattern is so unmistakable that this is no longer a matter of coincidence or happenstance, but clearly either an overt editorial strategy or a sly, underground one, but either way, it’s both fascinating and constructive.  The Times has obviously decided to regularly open its op-ed page to people who might have recommendations about how to engage in more effective activism or at least activism that the Times and its view of its readers would find acceptable activism.

I started noticing this last year, but with the 2020 election up for grabs, climate change a blisteringly hot topic, pun intended, and their new skepticism on tech-dominated social media as a change methodology, they obviously decided they needed to get into the game.  There were suddenly some columns on what they saw as effective community organization.  There was one recently from an academic highlighting organizing in Arizona.  Several days ago, there were props for the c4 arm of the old Center for Community Change, a community organization and economic development support center in Washington, sharing their adaptation of grassroots, community organizing techniques to huge increases in voter participation among infrequent voters.   This weekend there were tips from another author on her views of how to effectively impact climate change.

I like this encouragement of organizing and activism, but my support is categorical.  The Times doesn’t want folks going all Hong Kong out there.  They want people in the streets, but mainly if they are walking towards a voting booth.  Part of their new found enthusiasm for organizing, as we can see in their selection on the climate op-ed, includes a message in these dark times that young and old need to organize, but they need to keep it all within the lines.  No desperation or disruption is necessary.  The Times wants all of us to know that change is possible, but keep it under control.

That said, here’s the advice from Emma Marris under the headline, “Stop Freaking Out About the Climate”:

  • Ditch the shame
  • Focus on systems, not yourself
  • Join an effective group
  • Define your role
  • Know what you are fighting for, not just what you are fighting against.

Nothing wrong with any of those points.  We could do worse than to have lots of people who are sitting back and working their worry beads, jumping into the fray with that advice.

At the same time, tactics and strategy still counts.  Sometimes we have to go outside the lines in order to move the targets.  Often it is not the middle of the road that wins, but the radical edges that force change.

When reading and taking advice on action, keep an open mind, but always try to understand where people might be coming from.  That wasn’t in the op-ed column, but that’s my advice to all of you as well.

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