Maxine's Journal

Adventures of the Polka-Dotted One

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SAMOTURE - or This is What an Activist Looks Like
I'd love for everyone to read this and answer me a couple of questions afterwards:

What are your stereotypes, when you think of what an activist looks like?



There's a kind of myth that runs through a lot of communities, about this invisible committee of experts who sit back and put the brakes on when things are happening that they don't approve of, who take charge when there is something to be run, and who 'fight the fights' when there are battles to be fought against society. These are the 'somebodies' that are referred to when a comment is made along the lines of 'somebody should do something' - they're the heroes that appear when everybody needs to be rescued. They're probably even a different species altogether - superhuman, omniscient, something like angels. This is the Unseen Ruling Elite, who live to make the world better for you and I.

It's a wonderful thought, isn't it?

Sadly, they don't exist.

In my last post I declared myself SAMOTURE, which is a reference to a sort of public in-joke for those who know what it stands for. The acronym stands for 'Self-Appointed Member Of The Unseen Ruling Elite'. Clearly it's a paradoxical concept - if self-appointed is in the criteria, one can't be elitist, and if one is advertising the fact then neither is it unseen. What it's really about - it's about taking responsibility for the world I live in, and not expecting some unseen 'they' to do the work for me.

In the 'Future of Polyamory' discussion at Polyday there were a lot of audience comments that ran along the lines of 'this thing is bad, somebody should do something', or, slightly better 'we should do something' - but still clearly with no intention to follow through on a personal level.

There's that mythical 'they' popping up again.

I found myself looking from side to side along the panel and realising that the half-dozen people alongside me were near enough the only 'they' available, and every single one leads far too busy a life already to take on any more of the world's troubles. We all have to work for a living, and nobody's offering to pay us to take on any of these causes. Nor is anyone offering to help - there is an assumption that somewhere there is an invisible group of people who just live to do this work. As I've discovered recently, there's no Unseen Ruling Elite - it's just Us.
I'm aware that not everyone who was asking those things has the capacity to achieve what they were asking for, but I'm also aware (now more so than ever) that most of us have more capacity to change the world than we know, and I think it's important that everyone also realises, at the end of the day, nobody is going to fight our corner except us, and we're all a part of that us - there is no 'they,' at the top.

I have caught myself making this sort of odd assumption, too - When I stepped forward as a volunteer to run Polyday, I was half expecting some previously invisible committee of experts to step forward and tell me I wasn't going to be acceptable, to take the responsibility I felt too small to bear off my shoulders. Of course this didn't happen, and I had to follow through on my promises - not out of any contractual obligation, but out of my sense of responsibility to myself and to the community I care about. What makes me SAMOTURE is my willingness to take on that responsibility - nothing more, nothing less.

The stigma of 'Activist'

My opening speech at Polyday referred to my having 'unwittingly contracted activism' from my friend Grant. I was of course making a joke, but as the old wisdom goes, there's some truth in there too. There is a certain stigma, a stereotype, attached to being an 'activist', which makes becoming one seem rather unappealing unless that's challenged. Having rather accidentally tumbled myself into the forefront of the battle for poly acceptance, I find myself wanting to challenge the assumptions about what activism means, and who 'activists' really are.

I came up with a lot of excuses about why I wasn't good enough, or unemployed enough, or superhuman enough, or serious enough, to be 'an activist' before I realised that actually, ever since I started making an online journal about polyamory I've been engaged in activism. Every time I smile at someone on the tube I am engaging in 'pro-cheerfulness activism', every time I talk about something that's not a societal norm, making it that little bit more accepted, that's activism. The reunion event I'd been running for old regulars of Coffee Cake and Kink - that's activism too. Activism isn't just about huge acts of self-sacrifice, (though lord knows the buzz at the 'top' is that it's what is expected of you, once you're known as an organiser-of-stuff) it's about making positive actions, however large or small, to change the world into the shape you want it.

But there aren't enough people who realise they can change the world.

So I've got a plea:

The next time you catch yourself thinking 'somebody should do something about that' - whatever it is - and the next time, and the next, just think after it 'could I do something about that?'

And here's a list of things that can help to change the world:
(This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few ideas currently flying around my head)

Simply being 'out' as who you are. (Yes, I know that even this isn't possible for everyone, and we can't all fight that battle, but the more people that do this, the more normal and accepted we all get to be).

Running your own events: meet-ups, socials, support groups, picnics, trips to musicals, whatever feels good to you. It all helps.

Increasing awareness - blogging, writing articles, talking to people, challenging stereotypes. You don't have to be out to do these things, either.

Donating money to rights organisations. Currently there is no such thing as a poly rights organisation, but there are charities that have benefitted poly people in the past.

Setting up a rights organisation - it's not in the realms of impossibility - if enough people want it enough, funding will happen, and if we don't have poly lawyers that want to volunteer, enough funding could *pay* for someone to do the work. I'm going to pass the buck on this one, as I've got too much life to lead as it is, but just think about say an evening a week to set aside. It's amazing what can be done in one evening a week.

Taking responsibility - identifying problems, and solving them yourselves

Coming up with more suggestions for this list!


Activism isn't just for a select few people at the 'top' of society, it's for everyone, and it's our responsibility to keep nibbling away at it until the world is how we want it.

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I think
it is OK to think, to dream, to plot without having to make every idea concrete.

Oh absolutely - what I object to is the idea that it's always somebody else who should do the work.

There are probably a few ideas I have that *shouldn't* be made concrete, for that matter (coating the world in candyfloss being one of them :) )

Dreaming is wonderful, it just shouldn't be the only thing that ever happens.

Sadly these days it seems that activists are hoody wearing rioters who have their face covered with a scarf or a balaclava. And throwing rocks at police and breaking everything in sight.

Meh, you're right, that's also a part of the negative stereotype. I'd call that low-level terrorism rather than activism, though. There's an important difference!

True, true. But sadly the media seems to focus on the negatives this day and age. But also I think some of the activists are to blame for this too. For not distancing themselves clearly enough from these violent hooligans/terrorists.

Thus my challenging the stereotypes of what an activist is! :)

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You really are one of my Heroes, you know that? But then again, so am I. ;-D

The very essence of SAMOTURE!

And that is indeed a wonderful quote.


I have a long list of suggestions along those lines... actually, you'll find them if you check your BiCon special issue of BCN...!

I have it around somewhere - I may edit and credit when I next trip over it! :)

I think it may be on the BCN site somewhere. But keep it under your hat til Sunday cos we're running that workshop again on Saturday! ;)

Sure, and ooh, I'm not up to date as usual - what's on where? I so need a PA.


I think I do a fair bit however I currently can't be the buck stop too much because I'm just not reliably well among other things. I don't think there is anything wrong with saying "I think this is a good idea but I can't run it" but it's important for people really think about what they can do. I can do almost anything remotely and to some degree in Cambridge, since we have a Poly and Bi meet I'm mainly involved in LBGT, generally being open and having *lots* of conversations and also maintaining a couple of websites. I'd like to do more after my course has finished but until then my plate is full to overflowing.

Merf, guess I'm an activist for all kinds of things then, as I don't keep stuff secret. I probably do challenge lots of stereotypes, but nobody appears terribly taken aback that I'm not what they were expecting.

Thing is, with all the stuff where I can be categorised as atypical, none of it is who I am - its just stuff I do to live. As a result I feel poorly motivated to engage in communities relating to these specific subjects.

On a related note I just signed up for the Freak's Revolution - their manifesto is worth reading (though halfways through they get a bit full of themselves and after a while you realise that they fall into doing what they oppose ...).

You write awesome posts, you ran an awesome PolyDay (from what I heard - I missed it this year *sad face*) and you have awesome hair. I have almost definitely hugged you at the Cuddle Party at BiCon*. Do you mind if I friend you?

(I am short, round and redheaded in real life.)

Don't mind at all, and thankyou! :)

Thanks for relinking to this, I'd forgotten about it and it's excellent, lots of stuff that I've been thinking about even more recently.

I like that the list doesn't include writing letters of complaint, but focuses on going out to create positive things. Far more fun, and something I've been doing in bits and pieces for a while :)

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