We can do better. That is the hymn that my brain began to sing when I was a young girl. To the eyes of a child inequality doesn’t really make sense. When people ask me what caused me to lose all ‘reason’ (and fiscal sense) and decide to be an activist, I always refer back to the time when I was 11 and was reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ Ms. Harper Lee had a huge impact on my young imagination.
To this day, I still say that if I ever have a boy I will name him Atticus. And this isn’t because Atticus is a popular name among toddlers these days (it isn’t).
It’s because I saw something in the principled stand of the lawyer/father Atticus Finch that I could admire. Here was a well educated and kind man who put what was right ahead of what was expedient. According to Wikipedia:
“Atticus is To Kill a Mockingbird’s most upright character, representing the moral ideal of both a lawyer and a human being: he is brutally honest, highly moral, a tireless crusader for good causes (even hopeless ones), a virtual pacifist and, for the most part, devoid of any of the racial or class prejudices afflicting the other citizens of Maycomb.”
In the book, Atticus defends Tom Robinson, a black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. While defending Robinson, so says Wikipedia:
Atticus shrugs off all prejudices and insults, forgiving the townspeople for their failings, and continues to work for Tom’s acquittal, taking the release of the innocent man as a personal crusade, all the while seeking to set a strong moral example for his own children in the hope that they will not emulate his biased society and become prejudiced against others on account of race as well.
What isn’t to be loved and admired in all of that? At 11, I asked myself if I would have Atticus’ courage and determination if in a similar situation. I hoped that I would, but I doubted myself. I considered what opportunities I might have in my life to take a principled stand for justice and equality. I decided then that I would do my best to be the type of person who was willing to stand up for a cause or a group of people. Since then, I always try to give my actions the Atticus Finch test. I should wear a bracelet that says W.W.A.F.D (What Would Atticus Finch Do?).
I am not Atticus Finch. I don’t think anyone can be. But I do think that if I were to try to sort out the long and crazy road that had lead me to call myself and be called an activist, I would have to pinpoint Atticus as one of the signposts on my journey. It was from his fictional example that I came to believe that it was possible to ‘do better’ and to fight, even against seemingly overwhelming opposition or even just the plain old every day opposition of tradition and bureaucracy and all those other tedious things. The world needs people who speak up and speak out.
Being an activist, working for causes you care passionately about but which aren’t necessarily popular is not a well paying job. In fact, it can be the very ticket to having no job at all! People don’t like employing activist types… they are too principled. They are too unwilling to bend. They are idealistic and seem to live in another world which doesn’t cohere with the dollars and cents of this one. They are liable to call you out for your own issues and prejudices, and that just isn’t terribly pleasant or conducive to a friendly work environment.
People are definitely not lining up for the job of activist. There is no union who will ensure that you get time and a half for overtime. There isn’t sick leave. There are not matching RRSP contribution programs. The organizations that want you to be involved with them often don’t have sustainable funding since most sustainable funding these days comes from government or business and neither wants to be aligned with supposedly ‘radical’ causes (like missing Aboriginal women or marginalized queer people).
But here I am trying to be an activist. Here I am trying to make a go of The Antigone Foundation (www.antigonefoundation.wordpress.com), a crazy dream that pictures equality for ALL women and girls. Not some women. Not women who look good in the photos on our website. ALL of them. Even those who are transgender or queer, or disabled, or women of colour, or Aboriginal, or poor, or living in the North, or fervently religious. Or any other grouping that would make other people or organizations deem them unimportant or too controversial to serve. Will the Antigone Foundation, with myself as its intrepid Executive Director, be able to bring about equality for ALL of these women? Definitely not. But that won’t stop us from advocating for it. That won’t stop us from speaking up about it. That won’t stop us from trying.
So, here I am… trying to make this organization work and trying to make it financially sustainable for me to work for it (with five part time jobs!). I need to try. I need to believe that we can do better. I need to believe that there are other people who support our vision for girls and young women. I need to believe that we can stand together as the collective Atticus Finches of our day and make a difference. So, this Diary of an Activist is going to be the story of that crazy adventure of trying and succeeding and failing as I go along.
It will be a narrative of my attempts to fight against the cacophony and the violence that silences the voices of the mockingbirds of our society and of my attempts to empower those mockingbirds to sing.
Yes, I used that metaphor. I am an English Lit grad. I cheaply exploit literature for my own ends. Sue me?
If you want to join me for the ride – read my diary. Comment with your story. Donate to my organization. Believe with me that we can do better and start working towards that better world.
Sincerely,Amanda Reaume Executive Director The Antigone Foundation firstname.lastname@example.org