Veteran advice for dissension within social movements and political groups

There’s been some wrangling going on lately on Facebook among solidarity activists. Usually that stuff crops up when movements are at low points & people turn frustrations inward on other activists. It’s usually very personal with back-biting & gossip. If you’re the target, it’s quite upsetting & the tendency is to retreat from activism. That’s the very purpose of it: to weaken the movement by driving people out.

After nearly fifty years of activism, I have some insights about all this stuff & how to handle it. First of all, stay clear of it; don’t get involved in it. Refuse to listen, especially to gossip. Don’t be naive, but judge others by what they do, not by what you’re told about them. And beware the messenger. Those who peddle the gossip & accusations are troublemaking. Because at all times, minimizing personal conflicts which are bound to erupt is a fundamental movement-building ethos.

If you’re the subject of the gossip it’s very hurtful but it can’t be allowed to interfere with your commitment. Women get it the worst by a long-shot. I’ve listened to a drum beat of accusations my entire political life from being impossible to get along with, factional, & sectarian–just for disagreeing & not deferring to men. When I worked with right-wing men I was accused of prostitution with Black coworkers; but for considering prostitution the exploitation of poor women & children, political activists call me a “sex-negative feminist” & the demeaning epithet “SWERF.” There’s no accounting for slander.

Get the crying out of your system, avoid the troublemakers, & keep your commitment to justice uppermost in your mind & heart. Let nothing deter you. Don’t retreat because thinking good thoughts is not the same as social activism. Many activists–& they’re often the same as the troublemakers–get confused by the Che Guevara quote about ‘revolutionists being moved by great love.’ They think if they work up a lather of love for those persecuted then they don’t have to do much. But idleness can be the devil’s workshop in politics too.

And one last thing, sometimes the troublemaking is caused by difficult, jealous people or grandstanders. Sometimes it’s by agents provocateurs. Sometimes it’s just from do-nothings. That’s why you keep your nose clean & your politics honest: don’t double-deal, don’t gossip, don’t spread rumors about someone. This is hardly a low point in politics; the need for solid, committed activists has never been greater. Gaza, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Kashmir, the Rohingya, African, & Middle Eastern refugees demand solidarity. Nothing else matters. Especially our hurt feelings.

I could say “develop a thick skin”–but I never have. I’ve stayed in politics not because I have rhino-hide but because I refuse to be bullied out by chumps or deterred by gossip. I just keep looking for others to work with. As for the troublemakers that made my life difficult? They’re more boring now than ever & I’ve learned from nosing around FB are no longer political. Gossip is the venue of the do-nothing; committed activists shun it like the plague.

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