By Kenny Yum
“So what are you now, a lefty? Or have you sold out?”
I have been asked this question more frequently as I leave the post secondary world and I have been hesitant to answer when I was faced with it.
Me, a visible minority, a supposedly left-wing journalist. One that walked into a Globe and Mail internship interview last year admitting that I edited a national youth activist magazine. One that walked into the Globe’s Report on Business newsroom a few months later.
No wonder my former colleagues grinned when I admitted what I had done last summer. As a journalist and editor and a believer in fairness in my craft, I try to maintain a semblance of objectivity.
How to answer my critics?
A few days ago while watching TV, I was hit with the fist of many Christmas and holiday season commercials. I was not amused, having just barely finished celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving. The last thing I needed on my mind was buying a gift in an overheated department store while hundreds of capitalists consumers waited in lien to use up their disposable incomes on disposable gifts.
Then I remembered Buy Nothing Day this Friday. Buy Nothing Day is held to encourage us to combat the consumerist mindset we have embraced. The campaign’s main goal: “Participate by not participating!” I guess they mean they want you not to buy anything that will have you spending money, contributing to the landfill sites full of products probably manufactured by Third World hands for pennies a day.
The people behind this movement are mainly young and idealistic.
They are activists. No, let me rephrase that. Young, left-wing activists.
They are the APEC protester, sprayed into the public scent recently. They are the culture jammers, young guerillas fighting an urban war against those who control the medium and the message in the information age. They are the antiracist groups, sometimes resorting to violence to pound their point to the intolerant. They are the type of people who showed up in Toronto this past summer for the Active Resistance conference, a mind melding week for revolutionaries.
They are pulled from our generation, one that was raised in a cynical world. They are radicals in every way, from their tastes in music to their choice of clothing to their stacks of reading material from earlier century works of socialists to present-day philosopher kings, like Noam Chomsky and Che Guevara. They are also moderates, people who go to university, grow up in suburbs, live in the middle class.
They are, contrary to the stereotype, like you and I.
Their goal: To change a world they think is unjust. To help those, not necessarily themselves, who suffer at the hands of others who wield power. Nowadays, theirs is not necessarily a war against race or ideology, but against power rooted in green and money.
No one is free from their critical chorus: Government, big business, apathetic citizens, bureaucrats and the media.
Like me, most of my friends who were in the so-called left-wing movement have moved on with their lives. A few are now marshaling the march.
Activism is not a public act, although protests, the loudest type of activism, is what we all identify with. The best and true form of activism goes on in communities, around the corner or in another continent. What makes activists different from your or I is that they give away a bit of themselves in order for society to progress. Progress, for them, can be in different ways. It can be achieved by educating society to an injustice and changing it. Progress can be getting government to change an outdated or discriminating policy. Or it can be by merely helping another person who is at a disadvantage: by race, by class or by politics.
I have worked alongside activists. I have witnessed their triumphs, from a successful tree planting to diverting the media’s gaze from superstardom to child labour in a Third World country. They are courageous. And they are from every race and class. What binds them together is their dedication to change and their passion for their causes. And it’s that compassion that they show though actions everyday that I admire. And I identify with their struggle.
I’ll never forget what these activists taught me:
To exist in ignorance is to avoid progress.
To stand by, watch and to understand is to care.
To act is to help change the world.
So have I sold out?
I silently support those who fight for a worthy cause. I’ll probably buy nothing on Buy Nothing Day. I’ll dedicate some of my free time to volunteering. And I’ll probably write an editorial or two on what I believe in before I start working for a “real” newspaper.
And by doing so, it will be by my small everyday actions, not my words, that I hope I will silence my critics.