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Activism is the rent I pay for living on the planet
by George Cassidy Payne
2018-06-23 09:16:30
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Novelist and poet Alice Walker once said, “activism is the rent we pay for living on the planet.” As a white American male who is able bodied, heterosexual, English speaking, university educated, reared Christian, and endowed with birthright citizenship, I know exactly what she means.

activi01_400My favored position on this planet is both a blessing and a burden. I am blessed because I have been granted every conceivable privilege under the sun. I am burdened because my privilege has too often come at the expense of my fellow brothers and sisters, people just trying to survive with dignity.

For example, my gender has oppressed women. My whiteness has discriminated against people of color. My citizenship has justified imperialism. My able body and mind has contributed to the perception of disability in others. My westernized education has propped up a global caste system. My English language has dominated other cultural expressions. My heterosexuality has been responsible for the bullying of the LGBQT community.

With Alice Walker’s words as my reminder, I am compelled to view my activism as the price I must pay to not only live on the planet but to live with the planet. If I do not fight for women, I am against women. If I do not fight racism, I am a racist. If I do not fight nationalism, I am a fascist. If I do not fight homophobia, I am a gay basher. If I do not fight Christian triumphalism, I am a Christ killer. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “If we are neutral in situations of injustice, we have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

It is really that simple. I must choose activism because I cannot afford to waste my privilege sitting on the sidelines of social conflict. Truth be told, there is no sideline to sit on. We are all in the game. The only thing that matters is which side we are fighting on.


George Cassidy Payne is a freelance writer, adjunct professor of philosophy at SUNY, and a social justice activist. He lives and works in Rochester, NY.

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