Conversations on resistance in all shapes and forms is a fundamental part of education on social activism and understanding what’s happening in our country. It is the perfect time then for the Resistance Panel of Community Organizing, featuring four inspiring figures from the Boston College community and the Boston area, to come and speak.
On April 5, 2017 as part of FACES week, students gathered in a small classroom to hear voices familiar and unfamiliar alike. These voices were Chris Messenger, a representative for Showing Up for Racial Justice. Professor Tatiana Cruz and Dr. Lyda Peters from the AADS department, and Alex Kontopoulos, a BC senior. Many questions were presented during the evening, including how and why the panelists chose to be community organizers, what methods they found most effective in doing so (in today’s political climate especially), and if it’s better to work within the system or outside of it. Our guests gave very thought-provoking responses.
“I was looking to see myself reflected in history…I wanted more than something like Martin Luther King,” remarked Professor Cruz. These words resonated with me as the panelist described why they organize. It made me think of the protests I’ve seen since Trump’s election and how active I’ve seen our generation become. I’ve seen how words can become action and how powerful hashtags can be (it turns out a lot can get done in 140 characters or less). Professor Cruz spoke to what I believe is in the hearts and minds of people everywhere who are not satisfied with the way things are in our country: we want to see ourselves reflected in history. More specifically we want history to reflect our passion and discontent with the status quo. This brings me to what Dr. Peters said which discusses the primary debate surrounding protesting in general: disruption vs. resistance.
Resistance is the act or power of opposing or withdrawing. Disruption is defined as forcible separation or division into parts. It’s one thing to resist or fight back against what you don’t agree with and another thing to separate yourself from it. Separation doesn’t necessarily mean to give up, or that you are ignoring the issue, it is more so a shift in focus towards self-care. This focuses more on a life improving approach. This, I believe, is what Dr. Peters meant when she said “I believe in disruption rather [than] resistance,” and it makes sense! There is only so much you can do to before resistance becomes futile, and only leads to disappointment. However, this doesn’t mean that resistance is not a good thing; rather, shaking up the system as opposed to just fighting it might be a better alternative.
Along with this, what was more profound was Chris Messenger’s definition of community organizing in today’s political climate. He argues that, “you’ve already consented to the system being unjust, community organizing is removing your consent from this system.” I thought to myself, how can I be consenting to an unjust system? But as he continued to speak, he described how personal fear can get in the way of progress because of the idea that we either don’t see the system as unjust or we benefit from it. He want on to talk about about working within and outside the system. For some, it’s more comfortable to work within the system because they may have more at stake than those who work outside of it. Debating which method is better is not the conversation that we should be having, as risk looks different for everybody, from losing a job to losing college scholarship. The main point here is unity. Every method is important and every angle should be taken into account when the goal is the same.
It’s important to not discount the efforts of organizing groups across the board. Alex Kontopoulos made a point of that. Being a member of Eradicate Boston College Racism, he stated how in community organizing, it’s important to modify your tactics in order to adjust risk levels. Not to mention, just because one organization gets more press and attention, doesn’t mean that efforts made by other organizations are irrelevant. The most important part about community organizing is the community, because “sometimes you don’t always win,” said Kontopoulos. One can only do so much on their own, and without a support system, it can be especially draining when results don’t always go your way. However, at the same time, one cannot simply focus on the negatives that occur, as there are many positive outcomes that can happen more often than not. As Alex and the other panelists stated repeatedly: this is a lifestyle.
It’s great to express your interest and add your voice to a cause you believe in, but putting in minimal effort or believing that the cause can go on without you would not be beneficial. Again, this is not to say that you have to step too far out of your comfort zone to the point where the risk is too great, but it’s important to have a passion and do what you can to support it every step of the way. Know your limitations, stay encouraged, and surround yourself with like-minded people to keep you going when it gets rough. And most importantly, remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. This panel revealed that to me, and I left feeling inspired and motivated to contribute to making this country the best that I know it can be and will be.
Images contributed by the author.