By Andy Wistreich
There are various kinds of activism, and thus various kinds of activist. Moreover, one activist can engage various kinds of activism either at different times or simultaneously.
Activism is comprised of specific actions aimed at identified results in the world. Here we are concerned with activism for the benefit of all (as distinct from for example far-right activism which seeks the benefit of one group at the expense of everyone else.)
As you read through the following descriptions of types of activism, you may recognise elements of your own journey as an activist and locate where your personal emphasis seems to lie right now. Remember that activism requires flexibility to the moment, and shapeshifting, so it’s advisable not to feel too fixated in a single type.
The varieties of activism described here are not in a hierarchy. The transformations required in our time require all the powers and forces available, from every possible type of activism. In practice, successful collective actions include many kinds of activists working together alongside one another. We can’t generally tell by looking at anyone, what kind of activism they are practising.
This article divides activism into three main types – direct, radical, and deep. There is a further division of deep into outer, inner, and secret. As indicated above, this taxonomy is not exclusive, simply a method to explore the overarching topic of activism, to help support the processes of all activists.
It’s called direct because it pinpoints a specific situation, methodology and purpose, and focuses directly at that point. Traditional methods include strikes, occupations, pickets, blockades, and marches. It may be volent such as engaging in fighting police or opponents of the action, using weapons, such as Molotov cocktails or not. It may be non-violent as in the non-violent direct action (NVDA) practised by Extinction Rebellion, which includes disruptive or obstructive actions, which might involve lock-ons, gluing oneself to fixed objects or just sitting or standing somewhere for a purpose.
Radical means changing from the root, so radical activism takes place within an understanding of the place of specific issues rooted within a system. Thus, radical activism is aimed at changing the system in whatever way necessary to ensure sustainable transformation. In other words, it’s revolutionary.
We can see, in recent statements by Greta Thunberg, Gail Bradbrook and other leading climate activists that they have become increasingly radicalised. Increasingly we are seeing system change as an implicit or explicit requirement in communications from Extinction Rebellion.
This recognises that transforming society depends on transformation of consciousness, and thus goes deeper than direct and radical activism. In climate activist circles, the experience of grief and anxiety is openly acknowledged as a common part of the deal. Extinction Rebellion has always highlighted regenerative culture as a means of mitigating these, and thus sustaining the zeal of activists. Deep activists may go further than this purpose and see that without transforming the roots of culture in consciousness, meaningful change isn’t possible.
Here, I divide deep activism into three: outer, inner, and secret deep activism. As mentioned above, these are not exclusive and aren’t presented as a hierarchy. The separation is simply for discussion.
Outer Deep Activism
This can come through religious faith. For example, the Faith Bridge in Extinction Rebellion includes groups of activists from Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Buddhist faiths. Typically, activists of faith call upon their holy beings such as God or Buddha as a source of power, inspiration, and support in their activism. They use prayer, meditation, ritual, and mantra to invoke this connection, and might call upon the powerful being they worship to help bring about the change they seek.
It is also practised by activists of no faith, invoking deep connection to the earth, the universe, universal love and so forth, as sources of inspiration, comfort, and power.
Outer deep activism, through the agency of the outer Being or beneficent force, helps the activist to feel part of a whole – the whole of humanity, the web of life, nature, or creation. This in turn renders the approach to activism more selfless.
Inner Deep Activism
This recognises the source of the supreme being or universal power as situated within each individual. Theists might talk of ‘the God within’ or soul, and Buddhists of Buddha nature. Sometimes it’s referred to as an inner light. Some feel that all living beings have it; others say it’s only found in humans.
The point for inner deep activists is that through connecting with this basic element within oneself, one may connect to it within every other being. This brings an additional power to meditation and other practices of deep activism, enabling activists to feel a deep interconnectivity with those with and for whom one takes action.
Secret Deep Activism
This is based on personal connection with the innermost essence of consciousness, which transcends one lifetime, together with its ultimate nature, its absence of inherent existence. It is accessed through Tantra (or its equivalent such as psychedelics) and is thus particularly insightful. Moreover, it offers access to transformative energies from within the subtle energy system of the activist, which may be harnessed as agents of change beyond oneself. Skilful actions at this level of awareness require extensive training and guidance.
As said at the outset the purpose here is not to suggest a hierarchy of activism but to offer potential channels for reflection and discussion. Effective activists know where they are coming from and are not fixed in the methods they utilise.
The challenges of our time are so great that we have little chance of success unless we use as much of our personal and collective potential as possible. As mass extinction and societal collapse look ever more likely outcomes of our collective predicament on planet earth, it’s up to each of us who care about that, to become excellent activists in as many ways as we can and offer our service for the good of all.