After the Victory – Part 1

CelebrateA couple things have happened today that have made me thing about what happens after an activism victory.  I’ll talk about one today, and the other tomorrow.  (My first 2 part post, I’m pretty excited!)  I posted on Facebook about how excited I am that the Boy Scouts of America voted to end their ban on gay scouts, and congratulating the activists who made it happen.  Immediately people replied that there is still a ban on gay leaders and that this victory isn’t enough.

I see this happen with all kinds of activism victories.  I won’t speak for anyone else, but I can tell you that when I’ve just been part of an activism project that has had a success, this response is far more disheartening than a million trolls calling me a “fat cnut landwale.”  There is always a next step, there is always more work to do, but I don’t believe that means that we shouldn’t take time and space to celebrate our victories. While I understand that many of the people who do this have positive intentions, and of course I don’t deny that people are allowed to do it, I’m not convinced that pointing out that a hard fought victory  is “not enough” before the ink dries helps to encourage future activism  – though perhaps that’s not the goal. I’m not against discussion of what more there is to do,  I’m just not certain that the most productive time for that discussion is in the minutes following a victory.

I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in some large-ish scale long term projects and to talk to people who have been involved in many more than I, and what I learned from my experience and from the people who mentored me is that activism like this can be absolutely gut wrenching – full of bumps in the road, hope dashed by bitter disappointment, desperate stories from people who tell you that they are counting on you to make things better.  Out of a 1,000 day campaign, it’s possible that day 1,000 is a partial victory, but every single other day was a battle  – not even necessarily with those whose policies/minds you hope to change, but also with yourself not to give up in the face of seriously stacked odds and naysayers (just as there are people who rush to tell activists that our victories aren’t enough, there are those who tell us at the outset and every possible opportunity that our activism is doomed to failure, nothing ever changes etc.).

As an activist it is always possible to look back see your entire life as a series of projects and victories that were never enough – for me that certainly doesn’t encourage continued work, and I’ve not seen it inspire others to activism.  So to take away the celebration when we win a battle, just because there are more battles to fight, seems like an absolute shame and counter productive to me, but of course that’s just my opinion.

Fat activism has had plenty of amazing victories so far and we’re going to have plenty more, so I think we might as well talk about what happens after we win.

On the News!

I’ll be on Alberta Primetime at 12:30pm Pacific Time today (5/24/13) with a panel to discuss the Abercrombie and Fitch situation and what we think will happen in the future.

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16 thoughts on “After the Victory – Part 1

  1. Well said! One technique that’s used to derail civil rights gains is to point to what’s been left undone – and then blame the civil rights organisers. This happens with feminism all the time. I’ve lost count of how many times feminists have been blamed for the fact that a particular female demographic is struggling. It’s always the fault of feminists for focusing on some other problem – not the fault of the society that created the problems in the first place.

  2. Well said! One technique that’s used to derail civil rights gains is to point to what’s been left undone – and then blame the civil rights organisers. This happens with feminism all the time. I’ve lost count of how many times feminists have been blamed for the fact that a particular female demographic is struggling. It’s always the fault of feminists for focusing on some other problem – not the fault of the society that created the problems in the first place.

    1. Exactly, totally agree! I understand that groups aren’t perfect and it is okay to provide constructive criticism (key word: constructive), but it seems like there are some people within the activist space that basically just want to complain. And that doesn’t help anyone.

  3. Maybe there should a rule (convention?) that there’s a specific amount of time for celebration (perhaps a week) after which it’s socially acceptable to say “but there’s still more work to be done”.

    Also, are the people who say “but there’s still more work to be done” likely to include the people who’ve been doing the work?

  4. There is always more work to be done (until the day you die). But if you cannot celebrate a real accomplishment, what will motivate you to do it?

    Interesting fact: about 3 months ago my husband is an eagle scout and the Boy Scouts sent him (and all other former scouts presumably) a detailed online poll about their thoughts/opinions regarding this issue.

  5. As one of the people who has been active in the campaign to repeal the gay ban in the Boy Scouts, I’m fucking celebrating for a day or two.

    Was this a complete victory? No, it wasn’t. I’m well aware of that fact. But it was a massive, massive step and a big win for the home team, and I intend to treat it as such… and then gear up for the rest of the war.

    If you don’t celebrate battles won along the way, you burn out a hell of a lot faster and wind up dong less good than you could have.

    Sometimes you have to remind yourself that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it took more than a day to dismantle, too.

    So yes, we need to pat ourselves on the back when we make the world take another step that gets us closer to where we’re going, especially when it’s not a tiny shuffle but a major leap.

    There’s always more to be done. There’s always more to the cause or another cause to be championed. And there are always more dishes to be washed and more floors to be swept, too. That doesn’t mean I can’t look at my (temporarily) empty sink and grit-free floors and smile for a minute.

    In fact, seeing and appreciating concrete progress helps me gird my loins for more battle.

  6. I agree with this post. I had a somewhat similar experience in my neighborhood. It’s not exactly about activism, though it relates. For 10 years the neighborhood worked on getting funding for a major street repair and also a bike path to go through. There were many, many obstacles and hold ups. I joined the neighborhood board two years ago and watched as so many people patiently, painstakingly walked through the steps to help this become real. I was very discouraged by people who said, “That will never happen” and many said that. There was a “ground-breaking” ceremony when we began construction and people scoffed at the ceremony, saying, they haven’t done anything yet, why celebrate? But they were wrong. So much had been done by so many people before the first shovel of dirt was full. I believe in balancing hard work AND celebration because I think it motivates us to keep with it and stay the course.

    Thanks for your work and for your honest reflections. 🙂 Laurel

  7. There is definitely a need to celebrate activism victories. Without the celebrations, how can you see motivate yourself to keep going? You need that moment to reflect on what’s been accomplished, to refuel so to speak, before plowing ahead. If all you do is push from action to action without taking time to savor success, you get burnt out quickly. Why do that to yourself? Why not enjoy the current victory and see it for the success it is? Why deprive yourself of that satisfaction of a victory? That puzzles and saddens me that they do this to themselves.

  8. Amazing victory for the LGBT community ❤

    I know what will happen once we meet that milestone from fat activism. I my opinion, maybe more plus size models, better clothing selections for people of size. No more things that publicly shame and bully people of size. Promoting healthy bodies in the images of all body types especially larger one's.

  9. You’re absolutely right on, Ragan, in celebrating the victories. Many a civil rights movement has stalled because the politically correct folks are first in line to be the naysayers. Pick any progressive movement, and there will be people who are never happy despite gains along the way. I believe there just may be something in our national psyche that does not allow us to have fun and be happy. We must always temper the joy. Those of us who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s have seen tremendous social change, and yet, there are those who say we accomplished nothing because….(fill in the blank).

  10. Word, sister. While I am disappointed that the ban on gay scout leaders remains, it is a significant victory that one of the mainstays of traditional “American values” has officially accepted gay kids. That’s huge! Who would have thought that 20 years ago? The ban on gay scout leaders will topple soon. We have to take some time to celebrate each step, even though there will ALWAYS be many more steps to go when you’re working for justice and equity for everyone. Even the fact that there are serious discussions about Abercrombie & Fitch’s fat shaming in the mainstream media is a step. Pick up the foot, put it down, pick up the other foot, put it down in front of the first foot. Repeat.

  11. Just yesterday I watched a TED talk about happiness, and how when you always reset your goal, you never actually feel happy when you achieve any goal. Okay, that wasn’t very clear, but here is the link to the talk:

    It’s all the individual successes that lead to the big overall success.

  12. omg. A bazilion times YES to this post! This drives me crazy! My entire professional life is about helping people make difficult changes in their lives (I’m a social worker working with people who have complicated illnesses) and I have learned over the years how important it is to celebrate every victory, no matter how small. Taking time to savor a victory is what fuels me for the next step in the battle.

    I’ve decreased the amount of political organizing I do because so many people I worked with/around didn’t seem to be able to enjoy the steps of progress along the way. It ended up feeling to me as if nothing was ever good enough, and unless you were perpetually agitating and angry you were some kind of sell out.

    So Ragen – you take all the victory laps you want!!

  13. I’m so glad you said this, Ragen. Yes, let’s celebrate victories before we go on to the next fight!

    Speaking of victories (even small ones) I recently watched an episode of the network show “Parenthood” that I had DVR’d, and noticed that a small part, the head of the PTA, was played by a fat woman, who was portrayed as a positive authority figure, with no mention of her size.

  14. Life is short and there are far more set backs that victories, in my experience anyway. Celebrate the good stuff as it happens, no matter the SIZE. The celebrating is part of the process. It strengthens your resolve and bonds you to the people who are in the trenches with you. And really, who needs to justify dancing and being joyful?

  15. Thanks, Ragen, for the important advice about feeling great about the progress. The really central question here for me is, how do we make activism sustainable, and there has to be hope along the way to do that.

    I think there is a nuance to this that might be worth thinking about. For me, the problem sometimes is that the progress comes very unevenly based on existing inequalities. We try to get a change that benefits all the people who need it, and because of racism, homophobia, or whatever stigma, it only gets changed for people who already have a privilege. For me it then becomes very bittersweet to celebrate, because someone is not celebrating and is essentially left out of the party altogether. I think this is at the root of a lot of what you are talking about – not all, because there is also pessimism, cynicism, envy, perfectionism, and even competition over who makes something happen and how – but some. What gets experienced as “progress” depends on where you stand. I am acutely aware of the questions in the minds of the people left out by the progress about whether there will continue to be any will to pursue change for them, too. So I might say, yeah, let’s celebrate, but with the voices of the people who got left out right at the center. Again, because the activism has to be sustainable and has to last all of our lifetimes, because there is so much suffering and unfairness.

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