The power of quiet activism in troubled times

By Eimear Kelly, Queen Mary University of London

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Public protests are not the only way to effect change. Image credit: Flickr user Fibonacci Blue CC-By 2.0

The rise of nationalism and far-right political parties across Europe and America shocked many in 2016. In June, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union after a leave campaign, which was partly based on stirring up fears of immigration. In November, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States after a disturbing campaign in which he made outrageous racist, misogynistic and xenophobic claims. Following both of these events there was a significant increase in race and religious hate crimes in both the US and the UK, with the latter having a staggering 41% increase.

Within the media and social media there have been a wealth of opinion pieces, blog posts, tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts expressing anger, sadness, or confusion over how these events could have possibly occurred and what to do now. Out on the streets, thousands have marched and protested against Brexit, Trump’s win, and denounced racism, xenophobia and sexism.

While these public and vocal forms of protest and activism are vital and significant, it is important not to overlook the value of more quiet forms of activism, which can bring about change through everyday acts of kindness and subversion. Laura Pottinger’s recently published research in Area argues for the power of ‘quiet activism’ which she describes as small and embodied acts of doing and making that are either implicitly or explicitly political.

A pertinent example of quiet activism would be a befriending scheme between asylum seekers, refugees and settled residents in Newcastle, England described in Kye Askins’ research paper in Transactions. During this scheme, partners would often have to work through unfamiliar, confusing and exclusionary bureaucracy together. Through working together, talking, sharing experiences and emotions, the pairs’ relationships developed and this enabled greater understandings of each other as multi-faceted individuals. Those taking part in the programme noted that their involvement led to conversations with family, friends and co-workers where they have challenged prejudice, potentially changing views of those close to them. Kye argues that this type of programme is important not just at the local level but beyond, encouraging policy makers and academics to pay attention to the emotions of intercultural engagements as these are key for drawing connections between people. However, Kye recognises that more research is required to explore how the emotional citizenry she calls for is applicable across wider scales.

For those struggling to determine what to do to in the current social and political climate, it is worth considering what everyday smaller acts one could engage in to create change even just within a local scale.  That is not to lay the burden of change on the shoulders of people and absolve the wider institutions and governments of their responsibilities, nor is it an argument against vocal protest and activism, but it is useful to consider all ways to effect positive change.

books_icon Askins, K. (2016) ‘Emotional citizenry: everyday geographies of befriending, belonging, and intercultural encounterTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers doi: 10.1111/tran.12135

world_icon BBC (2016) ‘Brexit protest: March for Europe rallies held across UKBBC. Retrieved 19 December 2016

world_icon BBC (2016) ‘Race and religious hate crimes rose 41% after EU voteBBC. Retrieved 19 December 2016

world_icon Foster, P. (2016) ‘The rise of the far-Right in Europe is not a false alarmThe Telegraph. Retrieved 19 December 2016

world_icon Okeowo, A. (2016) ‘Hate on the rise after Trump’s election‘ The New Yorker. Retrieved 19 December 2016

world_icon Osnos, E. (2016) ‘The gathering storm of protest against TrumpThe New Yorker. Retrieved 19 December 2016

books_icon Pottinger, L. (2016) ‘Planting the seeds of a quiet activismArea doi:10.1111/area.12318

world_icon Toynbee, P. (2016) ‘Vote Leave’s fear-the-foreigner campaign will cause lasting divisionsThe Guardian. Retrieved 19 December 2016

 

 

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