What is the Goal of Activism?

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The answer seems obvious, but as the same names begin to appear on the boards of every queer organization Michael Stevens fears a stale monoculture is taking over, one that fails to celebrate when real change is achieved.

Surely those of us who are or have been activists, are working to create change. If your activism is based in the Rainbow Communities, your aim us to improve the lives and wellbeing of others.

I know it seems obvious, but I’ve been intrigued by the responses of activists when people who were once opposed to us, do change.

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For example, when former National MP Nick Smith apologised for opposing marriage equality (after his own son came out) I noticed a lot of ‘Too late’ comments. But it’s a positive change! I still wouldn’t vote for him, but surely, it’s a good thing his opinion altered?

Efeso Collins is now running for Mayor of Auckland. He was President of the Students Association at Auckland Uni when I was doing my Masters, and he was not supportive of queer student initiatives. His response was based in his deep Christian beliefs, but he has since indicated his thinking has changed. I look forward to hearing more from him about this. He needs to be clear about where he stands now if he wants to be our mayor.

Without LGBTQ+ activism would he have moved at all? I doubt it. So why don’t we support people when they do change? Why do we still bludgeon them with what they said 20 years ago? It seems to defeat the entire point of any political activism if you won’t accept that people who used to be against us have moved on, at least to some degree.

On social media, some activists do live in a state of perpetual (often ego-driven) rage and refuse to accept anything less than 100% adherence to their own worldview. This is often rooted in personal trauma but can be so counter-productive. The quest for moral purity turns them into political puritans, insistent that only they know the truth, and that those who disagree should have their heads handed to them on a platter (to quote one activist). It is, after all, much easier to pull down than to build up.

When you look across the landscape of much of Aotearoa’s queer semi-officialdom, those NGOs and organisations that claim to represent us, you do tend to see the same names, or friends/flatmates of the same names, occupying the spaces on their boards and committees.

Having the same voices on multiple boards quickly creates a monoculture. And as any ecologist will tell you, a monoculture, like a forest of Pinus Radiata or a seafloor of kina, is not good for growth and becomes sterile.

Getting mates on boards results in ‘group-think’. Where people are less willing to challenge ideas and approaches or consider new/opposing ones. It is an issue all minority groups face, but not one that gets talked about often enough. 

I have worked as a Diversity consultant for a number of years in a range of areas, and one thing I can assert with confidence is that having similar people sitting around the table saying the same things doesn’t actually bring about change. It creates complacency.

I suppose that is part of my apprehension about the Green Party’s proposed Rainbow Ministry. Who would be allowed in? Which voices would be heard? Just how ‘representative’ would such a ministry be? And how much change would it really bring?

Good community activism not only creates change, it accepts the positive outcomes when change occurs. Good community activism needs a wide range of participants (who are relevant to the cause). Let’s embrace more of the variety that sits under the Rainbow, accept more of the difference, and welcome any new allies as the work of the generations before pays off.

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