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Activism, Identity & Service

by | Apr 8, 2021 | ShiftHappens

The scholar Juana Rodriguez defines activism as “an engagement with hauntings of history, a dialogue between memories of the past and the imaginings of the future manifested through the acts of our own present yearning.”

Her work examines the relationship between identity and activism; more specifically, the idea that monolithic collective identities formed in the interest of solidarity can be reductive and even oppressive. Rodriguez and others ask, how can we hold space for our own unique individual identities, full of nuance and complexity, while still building broad-based social movements?

I see the fault lines of this tension reflected in nearly every prominent social issue; as activists are called to unify towards an expansive collective identity, they are concurrently pulled more strongly to smaller circles that organize around shared aspects of their personal stories. In the broader push for women’s equality, for example, many queer or BIPOC activists felt that the larger umbrella narrative did not fully account for the intersectionality of their experience. You can probably think of many more examples from your own work.

As heartivists, we reframe the focus of activism away from the self as center. Being drawn to a specific cause may come from direct personal experiences, but our work as heartivists is not actually about “us” at all.

Service, by definition, is self-less, yet in acting from a service-centered heart, our work actually becomes a truer reflection of ourselves, our humanity, and our shared hopes for the world.

There is no call to squeeze yourself into a collective narrative that, like a too-small garment, poorly fits you. Our personal identity is no longer a barrier to meaningful connection and culture shift; rather, we are finally able to dress ourselves with the intricate and beautiful nuances our lives have stitched for us alone.

Along the heartivist path, what we think of as “activism” shifts too.

Understanding that the world is changed by our example and not our opinions, we may come to observe that listening is a powerful form of activism. Kindness is activism.

And self reflection? Truly revolutionary.

Written by AJ Dahiya