The Six Assets of an Activist

Photo © Angelo Arcadi/iStockPhoto

by Donna Sinclair

A week or so ago, when Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver called environmental activists “radicals,” I seethed. He was talking about me, gardener, bread baker, Nana. I listed for my patient spouse all the ways that I am a true conservative, aiming to preserve the natural heritage Canada enjoys.

My spouse nodded and agreed. This is why we have a happy marriage.

Oliver’s epithet made me more determined than ever to use every skill I have to resist the powerful when they try to bulldoze something vulnerable – whether it is a climate at risk, or census data, or simply the formerly-smooth workings of a parliamentary committee.

You don’t have to have a degree in law (I don’t) or even be very courageous (I’m not) to resist cockamamie schemes. Here are six assets experienced activists try to cultivate:

  1. Joy. Observing climate change (for example) can lead to quiet, deep, hidden despair; but going after the source of it is joyful. Really. Last week, after Oliver held forth on how dangerous we were, about fifty citizens – retirees, students, professors, whatever – gathered at a snowy park in our city for a group photo. This was sent to our Member of Parliament and the Prime Minister. No doubt they’ll both be warmly impressed with our happy smiling radical faces and stop insulting us.  And we citizens got to know each other, mugging for the camera in the cold. So we’re all meeting again tonight and bringing along our friends. Who knows what fun might come of this?
  2. Wit. People who are pompous are more easily punctured. Just watch the faces of those being addressed by the Raging Grannies. All they do is sing to them, for goodness sake, and dress up in outrageous outfits. Or witness a recent cogent piece by Carolyn Pogue in which she imagines a huge crowd of sensibly-dressed little old ladies storming Parliament, sharply instructing its members to be courteous to one another.  It is the funniest blog I have ever read. And laughter gives us hope.
  3. Modesty. An old-fashioned virtue, but valuable. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must speak into the microphone on every single issue. It becomes predictable. Not an asset, for social-justice types or any other. Ask your friends if you are guilty of this. If they hesitate — even briefly — before answering, confine your justice-seeking activities to research or silent protest for a while.
  4. Respect. Even those who wish to ship tar sands bitumen out of Kitimat, B.C. on super-tankers — placing salmon streams and world’s largest intact coastal temperate rainforest at risk — are human. Yes, really. They are. We need to model the polite behaviour we expect from them, even when they call us names. Like radical. Or extremist (a title conferred by Oliver’s Parliamentary Secretary on a group of XL Pipeline protesters, including me, of which I am actually very proud. It is shared with folks I admire. Like Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke.)
  5. Ecumenical. A daunting religious-type word. It just means hanging out with anyone who wants to save Creation like you, even if he or she does not share your religious position. Or has no religious position. This too is fun and interesting, and — since you will meet very brave and very smart people — could also enhance modesty. (See above.)
  6. Realism. We radicals (or, rather, true conservatives) are never going to win completely. We know this. But we just might prevail, like Jacob wrestling with the angel. Remember, all night by the River Jabbock?  Both he and the angel walked away at dawn without destroying each other. Neither had won. They had simply prevailed. Similarly, activists can hope to wrestle questionable ventures (such as spill-prone pipelines) to a standstill long enough for technology (or even human wisdom) to catch up. We may, like Jacob, be wounded in the process. But we will be filled, not with despair, but hope and joy.

A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. She is the author of The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario.

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Categories: Donna Sinclair, Ecology and Environmental Issues, Leadership

Author:Wood Lake Publishing

At Wood Lake Publishing we are passionate about supporting and encouraging an emerging form of Christianity, which is rooted in ancient wisdom and attentive to the movement of spirit in our day. Visit us online at


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  1. The Six Assets of an Activist | Wood Lake Publishing’s blog | thepowerandthelaurie - February 1, 2012

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