Today we can’t help but think about love, and we find ourselves thinking most about a love ethic.
In All About Love, bell hooks asserts that a love ethic “presupposes that everyone has the right to be free – to live fully and well”. And despite hooks’ observation that on a societal level we can be apprehensive in talking openly about love, she believes that ultimately “we want to live in a culture where love can flourish.” So…how do we get there? One avenue hooks offers is generosity– sharing resources as a way to give love…“giving generously means recognizing when the other person needs our attention.”
So, how can we be tactical about using generosity as a tool of activism – as a way of making our voices heard and pushing stakeholders towards a more just direction? Especially when sometimes (rightfully so), we feel too angry to be generous?
Join the Conversation
We have some ideas, which we’ll be discussing on February 25th at 12 pm EST at the next edition of Revolutionizing Activism – I Made This For You: Strategic Generosity and Artistic Activism. Join us for a conversation about generosity as practice and strategy, and how we can better lean into creative and experimental activist practices that are grounded in a love ethic.
Moderated by Ibou Niang, West Africa Advocacy Manager of Open Society Initiative for West Africa, and featuring Aaron Gach of the Center for Tactical Magic, Alanna Coady a doctoral student in Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO), and Maanasa Guram from Free the Vaccine.
Here are some examples of strategic generosity in practice:
During the 2016 International Aids Conference, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and the Center for Artistic Activism wanted to sit down with Elton John and the Elton John Foundation because they support the rights of sex workers and the decriminalization of sex work.They knew Elton John would also be at the conference, and that he would be extremely difficult to access, which is exactly why they decided to go with the most out of the box idea:
- One way to get a famous person into the room? Give them an award!
- So, they made an award up and then crafted that award.
And guess what? It worked. They got Elton John into the room for the “Courage & Initiative Award” ceremony”, and got their meeting!
The Department of Happiness Affairs
In April 2018, Sonke Gender Justice, together with various civil society partners, staged a creative activism event – “The Department of Happiness Affairs” (“Department of Happiness Affairs and Joyful Application for Life Documents and Recreation for the Greater Good”), based on the principles of The Theatre of the Oppressed, a form of popular community-based education that uses theatre as a tool for social change. Refugees and asylum seekers – some of the most marginalized people in South Africa – often face discrimination, inefficiencies, and major administrative burden when applying for or renewing their permits at the Department of Home Affairs. This is particularly true at Customs House, Cape Town.
The closure of important services at the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office (RRO) in 2012 has forced asylum seekers to travel vast distances and at great costs – financial and emotional – every 1-6 months to get their papers renewed. The courts have ordered that this needs to change, but Home Affairs has ignored some of these orders.
The Department of Happiness Affairs staged a welcome party to bring more attention and color to the dust and despair that characterize the conditions at Customs House where Home Affairs is currently housing its limited civil services. Its aim was to show the Department of Home Affairs what services to migrants could look like – a welcoming, empathetic, and receptive space, open to all asylum seekers and refugees who wish to apply for documentation in South Africa. During the welcome party, they had a Comments box to collect migrant suggestions to the Dept/Home Affairs. The icing on the cake? They delivered it to Portfolio Comm. Home Affairs in Parliament with balloons.
The Power of Lifting People Up
We think generosity can provide an avenue towards lifting people up. And beyond that, when instrumentalized as a tactic, generosity can also create a path toward those we’re trying to reach. As advocates, it can help us understand where our target audience is coming from and help us devise methods to connect with them in a more personal way – a creative approach crafted from shared values.
We think about it this way – maybe generous activism is as much about those we are trying to compel and influence towards action, as it is about us as advocates– carrying out gratifying and joyful actions that can change our world for the better.
So what do you think about generous activism – Intrigued? Skeptical? Well, the good news is that the conversation is just getting started, we’d love to have you at this month’s Revolutionizing Activism to hear from our incredible panel and participate in a warm and innovative discussion.