In this video clip Derrick Jensen talks about how to support direct action, both through loyalty and physical, material support. Derrick lists many ways people can support others on the front line, using examples such as supporting indigenous people opposing oil pipelines and the importance of using your skill set from accounting and writing to others who can cook and sew.
Derrick Jensen challenges those of us listening to offer an hour a week for another person’s activism.
When one cannot go to support an action directly, how can one still support that action?
Napolean, or maybe it was Frederick the Great, famously commented that an army marches on it’s stomach. What is meant by that is that the quartermasters are just as important as the soldiers. Another way to say this is that in battle, in World War II, for example, only about 10 per cent of the soldiers ever fired their gun in battle. The vast majority of soldiers were clerks, or truck drivers, or people who delivered ammunition, or medics, or cooks, or something else. That is a pretty common figure—about, 10 per cent, or often less. I think it was only 3 percent of the IRA that picked up any weapon.
Let’s think about a professional basketball team, or a professional baseball team. You not only have the players. You’ve got all the minor leagers. You’ve got the trainers. You’ve got the dieticians. You’ve got the people who sell the tickets. You’ve got the groundskeepers. You’ve got all these others.
Or in a movie. A movie does not just consist of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. There are gaffers and stunt people, and editors, and caterers. So the point is that there are very few accomplishments that people actually do solo. Most of us require support in whatever we are doing. That support work is just as important as the more glorious aspects.
My friend Lierre Keith often says that what an activist movement needs is two things. It needs loyalty and material support. For example, right now, there are people, primarily indigenous people, some non-indigenous people, who are opposing pipeline that is going across their land. Of course, every pipeline goes across indigenous land, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment. For people whom, for any number of reasons, cannot go there to be there physically, there are a near infinite number of things they could do.
They can write letters to the editors locally. They can advocate in one way or another for them. They can send them supplies. The people actually in the frontline still need to eat. They are going to have shoes that fall apart. Or, they’re going to tear a hole in their jeans. Or, they’re going to get sick.
When we were attempting to stop timber sales, we would sometimes have to work very hard to meet the deadline. We’re having to have till midnight to finish our appeal. There was a post office that stayed open till midnight, for whatever reason. We would oftentimes be working as hard as we can. We were working for hours and hours. We’ve only got two hours left to go. We’d actually get very hungry. Somebody has to go get some food. That’s just as important as the person who drives it to the airport, where the post office was. That’s just as important as the person who writes it up.
Physical material support is very important. There’s also the notion that a guerrilla army swims in the ocean of the people. You need to develop support among the people in order to have a guerrilla army. That’s not just true for the guerrilla army. That’s also true of activism. We need to raise public support for our positions.
I’ve thought often of an experiment called something like “The Second Person Experiment.” They had a bunch of people sitting in a room, like a doctor’s office. They’d have a couple of people come in who were part of the experiment. One person would say, for example, something very racist. The others would not believe it. They would just say it was the part of the experiment.
What they found was that the response of everybody in the room was heavily influenced by the response of the second person in on the experiment. Let’s say that the first person says something racist. If the second person says, “That’s pretty funny, that’s great.” Everybody in the room is much more likely to respond positively than if the person said, “Hey! That’s not very cool.”
I think about that a lot. In fact, it came across a very very small way in the past few weeks. I’m on an email list in my neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood watchlist, where they will announce when somebody gets their house burgled. They’d say, “Everybody watch out. There’s somebody burgling a house. They were seen leaving in a whatever.” So, that’s pretty handy.
But another thing that the people running the list would do, that kind of annoys me is they will complain every time anyone in the neighborhood sees a mountain lion or a bear. And, they’ll say, “We need to call fishing game and get rid of the animals, cause a mountain lion was seen carrying a great kitty.” Nothing personal to the great kitty sitting in the house.
They’ve been doing this a lot. I’ve been keeping silent. Finally, I just couldn’t keep silent anymore. I wrote a very nice note saying, “We need to remember that we’re in their homes. If you have a cat and you leave your cat outside, that’s the risk you’re taking. The mountain lion or the bear should not be harmed for the risk that you took or your cat took.” Nevermind that cats kill birds, but let’s leave that aside.
It was a very nice note, but it had to be said, because I wanted to break the hegemony of it. It’s the same on the larger scale. There’s a line I’m going to mangle, I believe it was from Gandhi. “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they oppose you, then you win,” or something like that. I think that’s awfully simplified. But, it’s really true that somebody has to go and say something. And then somebody else has to repeat it. And, somebody else has to repeat if, till it gains cultural currency.
Let’s think about this in terms of the attempts to support the indigenous people opposing the pipelines. If they had 50,000 people show up, that’d be great. But, if that 50,000 people show up, but they have no body show up with a port-a-putty, and they had nobody show up with food, that 50,000 people thing would last about six hours and leave a mess. You need to have support in order to have a long-term campaign. That’s absolutely crucial. It’s just as crucial as anything else. What can people do, who are not on the frontline?
I have a friend who is an accountant. Part of her activist work is she does accounting for various organizations that need accounting. That’s something you have to to do too, especially if you have a non-profit. You have to have a 501C3, means that you have to go through all of that stuff. It’s nice to have someone to navigate that territory.
I don’t care what your skills are. If you’re a good writer, they need good writers. If you’re a good cook, they need good cooks. If you are a good accountant, they need good accountants. It is so true. I get tired of being called the “violence guy,” because I talk about resistance. Truth is, we need everything. We need school teachers. We need accountants. We need cooks. We need sowers. We need everything.
I want to challenge everybody who’s listening to this. I’d like you to take at least one hour every week and do some form of activism, or support for somebody else’s activism.
I am going to tell a story, which is how I got started as an activist. When I was about 24 or 25 or 26, I realized I wasn’t paying enough for gas. I wasn’t covering up the social and economic costs. Every time, I would buy gas, for every dollar I spent on gas, I would donate a dollar to a local environmental organization, cause they need it. But I didn’t have any money. I was completely unemployed. I had very very little money. So, what I’d do instead is I’d give myself a choice. Either pay a dollar for every dollar of gas. Or, I could pay myself $5 for every hour of activism. If I spent $10 on gas, I could either give $10 to a local organization or do two hours of work of activism.
I want to challenge everyone to do that. Take some amount, and either give a “tithe” to some local organization, or do two hours of work for a local organization. Or, one hour of work. Everybody can take 1 hour away from their lives. I don’t care how busy you are. You can take 1 hour. You can write a letter. You could go to a protest. You could help start assembling a package. You can do just that much to start. It’s a wonderful start.