I’m Not an Activist Anymore
I don’t want to make political work my identity — I just want to live a life I can stand.
In the author bio for my first book, it says that I am an activist. That bio has found its way onto countless bookseller pages, and appears in all manner of publications and podcast interview descriptions. When I lead workshops or give talks, people introduce me using that bio. It says that I am a social psychologist, writer, activist, and professor.
Every time I hear the sentence my stomach flops with disgust. Ughh, I think to myself. Who put that there? So obnoxious. So fake. So annoying. Get the fuck over yourself.
I must have put the word activist there. I wrote my book’s back cover copy and the description that appears on every bookstore website. I wrote my bio. I know I did. I must have believed at some point that describing myself as an activist was a good idea. Yet every time I hear someone read my own words back to me, I cannot fathom I have anything in common with the person who thought that was the right move.
It makes me cringe, and not just because it’s too painfully sincere. Activist sounds so sanctimonious and celebratory. It’s so much more, well, active than what my day to day life looks like, all puffed-up with self-importance. That word, and my decision to use it, lays bare my insecurity that I haven’t done enough and that I have constructed a false identity around shallow, performative efforts. Each time that I hear it, it makes me feel ashamed, certain that I can never do enough to live up to the values I am constantly and loudly professing.
I don’t want to identify as an activist anymore. I just want to lead a life I can stand.
Even as I say this, I feel the need to prove my political bonafides. That’s pretty telling, isn’t it? I want to make you believe that I have done enough, for long enough, to really recognize what is and is not sustainable for me. I’m compelled to tell you that when I was a preteen I was working in bat conservation in the Cuyahoga County parks. That I was registering people to vote at age 15, and that at age 16 I was phone banking for political candidates and attending school funding reform protests. I met with state lawmakers at seventeen. I wrote op-eds in…