Why I am an Activist
by David Easter
I have thought of myself as an activist for more than forty years. During that time I have attended countless of meetings, participated in rallies, written letters, spoken at press conferences, circulated petitions, worked on newsletters, organized conferences, and made thousands of phone calls; all for a variety of causes. I have found these efforts to be deeply satisfying.
What is an activist?
An activist is a person working to change the policies and practices of basic institutions in society in order to make life better for other people. The world is full of good people, who go out of their way to help their neighbors and contribute to charities. But they are not activists, if they are not working to change the policies and practices of governments, schools, churches, corporations and the other institutions of society.
I assume right wing activists want to make life better for other people, but I don’t share their analysis. I am a left wing activist supporting the broad causes of peace, nonviolence, anti-racism, feminism, lesbian and gay rights, and the environmental movement.
Stance toward life
I think of an activist as someone working for causes over a significant amount of time. Activism is a stance toward life, not something taken up as a momentary excitement..
But few activists carry out social change work full time. Most have only a few hours each week or even each month that they can devote to a cause they believe in. They have school and job commitments; home life; and involvements with family, friends and partners.
I have been fortunate to be able to work for social change organizations throughout my working career. I started out working for the American Friends Service Committee and the Syracuse Peace Council, both groups working to end the Vietnam war. I then worked for the Men’s Resource Center, an anti-sexist men’s organization. For nearly 15 years I worked with groups trying to change U.S. foreign policy toward Korea, first with the American Friends Service Committee in Tokyo and then with the Committee for a New Korea Policy in Albany, which advocated the withdrawal of U.S. troops and reconciliation with North Korea.
In recent years I served as the staff person for Campus Action. Between 1999-2001 I worked on the staff of the International Peace Bureau, in Geneva, Switzerland, before returning to Campus Action. From 2005-2009 I was the coordinator of Upper Hudson Peace Action, and have remained active in Peace Action since.
Still, I’m not a full time activist. During my working years I left the office around 4pm for many years. I still try to limit evening meetings each week to not more than two or three. I always believed in weekends away from work. I schedule vacations and weekends away a year in advance. Everyone has to set their own pace. I have wanted to do steady persistent work over many years and have had to find a pace that suits me.
Why be an activist?
Everyone has to answer that question for themselves. I will tell you some of the reasons I work for social change.
Like you, I see things that just are not right. The slaughter of war, discrimination based on race, gender or sexual identity, the inequality of wealth. I want to do something, even if it is a small effort to work for justice and peace.
It means a lot to me to be part of a larger movement. There are groups in every city across the country and in countries across the world working on these issues. What I do adds to the efforts of others. When something I have been working on doesn’t pan out, I can still be thrilled by the success of someone else’s effort.
Many people are outraged by injustice but don’t get involved because they believe its not possible to make a difference. They say, “You can’t fight City Hall”. I don’t see it that way. I see movement groups gain victories and achieve meaningful changes in laws or practices
all the time.
I can’t say I work for change because the Bible tells me to. But I did attend years of Sunday School. I really believe in the worth of each human being. I believe in the importance and power of love. This provides strong motivation to work to alleviate suffering.
Although a theological agnostic, I am a practicing Quaker. Quakers place a high value on work for peace and justice. I was an activist for quite some time before becoming a Quaker, but I receive validation and support for an activist stance through my Quaker involvement.
I am married to an activist. Maud Easter and I support each other through the ups and downs of activist struggles. We are each proud of the other’s commitment to important causes.
I meet and associate with such good people through activist work. I can feel tired before going to a meeting, but happy when I leave, in large measure through the enjoyment of being with colleagues.
While I don’t enjoy many of the fund raising activities associated with movement work and I sometimes don’t enjoy being on the phone trying to get someone to make a commitment to undertake a particular task; I do like activist work. Participation in a demonstration can be very moving. I like putting out a newsletter or maintaining a website. It gives me great pleasure to help an organization grow.
I said earlier that I believe positive change is possible. But I also know that many of the causes I work for will not succeed during my lifetime. I can’t see the future. Like most of you, I have lived my entire life of public awareness, knowing we could face nuclear obliteration. It is possible that in the years stretching ahead, ecological disaster could bring the death of all life on the planet.
It really comes down to the question of what kind of life I want to lead. I want to be counted among those who made persistent efforts to make life for human beings better.
It gives me great comfort to think that in some small way I am carrying on the struggle of those unknown people, who, more than a thousand years ago, were trying to end war. I can read about courageous persons, who, in the past, took risks to achieve justice, and feel that to some degree I am continuing their struggles. Maybe you will be one of those to push forward with some of the causes I care about deeply.