Neighbourhood Activists – A view from the next generation

March 19, 2008 at 1:51 pm Leave a comment

Occasionally a response comes into the City Program to one of our events that really strikes a chord.  Here’s a remarkable letter from a young Vancouverite who attended the session on “Neighbourhood Activists” that we did as part of the Paradise Makers series:

I was one of the few 1980s kids at the Neighbourhood Activists dialogue session on Friday night and feel like I left with some thoughts I should have shared. I am not sure where else to send them, thus this email! 

I’ve been involved in various types of activism since high school, mostly within the youth environmental movement, and more directly in community issues since I went to planning school. It is great to hear from the heroes of neighbourhood activism – those who persisted and lived to tell the tale.

But I found what was missing from Friday night was any mention of the many other activists who end up burnt out or disillusioned or depressed or apathetic or just pure bitter after involvement in the social change movements. It happens that many of my young friends are going through this. It is very sad to watch.

I can’t help but think that part of the reason this is happening is that the dominant emotion in this kind of work is anger or even outrage. Activists tend to be so self-righteous and feel entitled to attack.  This I felt was also a dominant emotion at the event on Friday night. There were several references to how neighbourhood activism thrives when there is a clear enemy and when people stand up against “the powers that be”. With all due respect to your guests and with appreciation for the work they have been doing, I just have to say that they do not inspire me as a young activist. I don’t want to have to be mad or walk through life thinking of “us against them”.

To be honest, the style of the last generation of activists is almost repulsive to me. I don’t find it sustainable on a personal level and I don’t find it productive or fair. This is why I think that older activists will have a very hard time handing down the torch to my generation. I want to fight a good fight and champion things that I believe are important, but the last thing I need in my life is more enemies and more negative emotions. Unless we find healthier ways of framing activism, I think we are in danger of losing important components of civil society in the next few decades. 

———————- 

Thank you for organizing these dialogue series. I do believe they are important and they certainly make me think.

Aftab Erfan

West End Resident 

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