Tag Archives: activism

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.


Museum Version Activism

New York City       On our way to some meetings, we took a detour on a cold, windy, sunny, supposedly spring day in New York to the Museum of the City of New York.  We spent some time looking at their interactive displays on how to deal with the city’s housing and transportation issues and its changing neighborhoods and demographics, which was interesting, but we came to see their section on Activism.

You learn something about how the dominant culture processes social change in such exhibits.  The curators do hard work.  The timelines are clear.  The photographs and archival exhibits are well displayed.

The emphasis though is on leaders and confrontations.  In New York and perhaps everywhere in America that’s what populates the historical record in newsprint and video and gains the attention.  Organizations are not second fiddle.  They are largely invisible.  In another section of the museum there is an even better example in a career retrospective of Gloria Steinem that was shown by flashing pictures of news conferences where she was present for various women’s organizations or events, where she was the only context.

The activist exhibit was varied, and it wasn’t whitewashed.  The history of slavery in New York was visible in the fight of the abolitionists.  The uneven history with immigration was displayed through the rise of the Know Nothings and anti-immigrant activists in the 19th century as well.

The labor section was heavy on the garment industry and the rise of workers’ actions and the women leadership, but was largely silent on the many unions that were founded in New York City whether the Amalgamated Clothing Workers or 1199.  There was no section on the rise of political parties whether the Socialists or the Workingmen’s Party or the more recent Working Families Party, all of which would seem to have earned some pride of place when activism was center stage, especially if the Know Nothings had their space in the room.  Stonewall, Occupy, and Black Lives Matter all made the show, and that’s for the good, but they didn’t create parties or long-term organizations, so no worries there in the curators’ minds, I would suppose.

There was a movie rolling on rewind as we entered and exited the room.  Once again, demonstrations and police confrontations provided most of the action shots.  There was one couple of seconds of video of a welfare rights action, but nothing from ACORN actions, marches, or even the squatting campaign.


New York City is a big gulp, so fair is fair.  Everything can’t make it in the highlight reel, even one centering on activism.  The exhibit engages, and props for there being room for it in the museum where large rooms existed on the port, money, and bicycles, and activism could have been omitted completely.  My only real critique is that the exhibit on activism seemed to only focus on the action and actors at the front of the stage, missing everything else in the production of social change.