In this post, Filipina activist Ninotchka Rosca lauds the strength of some of the women activists she has worked with over the years. She lists examples of commitment, including doing work while seriously ill or the day after a major car accident. She then says:
Me? I think the worst for me was when, because of an impossible schedule, I had to give up Guapo, the little cocker spaniel. That wasn’t much, but bursting into tears and embarrassing myself and the friend who had driven us to the animal shelter was.
You don’t have to look far to find stories of activists who have sacrificed their personal lives for their causes, such as folks who have had to place their children in the care of another in order to continue doing their work. In comparison, Rosca says above that giving up her dog “wasn’t much,” & that “As we say in the organization, for liberation, others have given up more. Much, much, much, much, much, much more…”
I would imagine that activists who had to leave their children would be given tremendous respect for their difficult choice (at least I would hope so!). I suspect that part of Rosca’s dismissiveness regarding her cocker spaniel was a reaction to knowing that others would think that giving up “just a dog” is nothing to cry about, & that if she was upset, it meant that she was a wimp & not committed enough to the cause.
This cavalier attitude about the lives of companion animals isn’t limited to activists, of course. Check Craigslist (in pretty much any city, I’m guessing, but NYC for sure) & you’ll see dozens of ads for folks discarding their animals because they got bored with them, can’t be bothered to work with their animals to overcome minor behavioral problems (imagine if humans got rid of their children because they wet the bed too much!), or other appalling reasons. In this disposable society, animals are treated as accessories we are free to discard as soon as our whim changes. Yes, there are folks who don’t do this — but then they get dismissed with labels like “crazy cat lady.” (I especially think that women who have chosen not to have children & who share their home with multiple animals get targeted as mentally ill & bitter & whatever.)
But I think that this ties into so many unhealthy attitudes I’ve seen myself (& heard about from others) in activist communities. Yes, activism is not a walk in the park; it requires hard work, & yes, sacrifice. But I don’t think the answer to grief & stress related to these sacrifices is to talk about how others have sacrificed much more! Why do we get into these “more activist-y than thou” pissing contests? And why are we expected to smother feelings that are unrelated to the cause? Some of my friends have complained numerous times about being unsupported, within activist circles, with regard to their mental health issues. Because we’re supposed to be so bad-ass that we can just crush our depression ourselves & keep on marching against the man, right? Or… we’re supposed to be depressed, look at how screwed up the world is, but don’t take time off to take care of yourself, don’t talk about being depressed or medication or therapy.
This is turning into a ramble, but I guess the point I want to end on is that creating & perpetuating forms of activism that don’t offer support for a life outside activism (including families of both human & animal types) doesn’t seem really sustainable or effective to me. I know so many people who think that activism means spending every night at meetings until the wee hours & then every weekend going to interminable marches in far-flung places (& probably getting arrested). How many people would sign up for that kind of life if they had a choice? Why can’t we support people in ways that make giving up their family not an option (or at least, the very very very last-ditch option)?
(I am sure some folks will read this post & curse me as a lazy bougie wannabe or something — but the fact remains that the world needs more activists. Sure, you’ll always have folks who are ready & willing to throw out everything else in their lives for the cause. But how many more people would get involved if there were more ways to do so that didn’t involve that? Wanting to have love & family & other interests in one’s life isn’t a character defect.)