Activism is the action of groups or persons who wish to influence or stop change within an aspect of their society. Through the use of rhetoric, political rallies, and social movements activists are able to use a breadth of tools to enact as well as prevent change. Activists not only use their influence to create change through institutional laws but also through political concepts, to change the way people understand individuals.
Activists may act alone or with others to help make their ideas more influential. Acting in groups or movements such as the American woman’s suffrage movement, activists are able to organize conventions to bring about institutional and social changes for women’s rights.
Often activists are working to retain or gain equality for groups that are oppressed. Economic equality is often at the forefront of the end goal but political equality is also equally important. In Monique Wittig’s essay The Straight Mind she calls on a critique of psychoanalysis, which she believes does not encompass anyone that does not fit in the heterosexual unconscious. She finds that there must be a “political transformation of key concepts” that are strategic to gays and lesbians to be independent of the “power of the straight mind” (Wittig 30).
Wittig as an activist is inviting non-heterosexuals to not “conceive of [themselves] as women and as men” because in doing so they maintain the dominance of heterosexual thought (30). Through this invitation and change she hopes to create a nonoppressive gender order that will have equality for individuals in all aspects of life.
Through cultural change activists are also able to bring about political transformation and economic equality. In Warner’s Fear of Queer Planet he describes the lesbian and gay movement as one with “institutions of culture-building [that] have been market-mediated” (Warner 16). Due to the market-mediated structure Warner finds that those with capital are the dominant group for the institutions of queer culture (17). In recent years the influence from all individuals in queer culture has begun balancing the scope of the once primary influence of the wealthy.
Activists do not always need to persuade to stimulate change but can help people understand ideologies and cultures better. Acting as an arbiter the activist could seek to influence politics, gender equality, or social culture. Politically active gay and lesbian organizations have worked to “align lesbian and gay populations with racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups and women” to gain full equality in all aspects of life (Grewal 212).
A way this change in understanding may be implemented is through writing, in invitational rhetoric. This style of rhetoric instead “constitutes an invitation to the audience to enter the world of another and to see it as that person does.” (Foss 251). Instead of trying to persuade others to change invitational rhetoric hopes to help make one’s own values and views more understandable as well as everyone else’s.
Activism can also be very persuasive in the traditional sense. As Duggan remarks in Making it Perfectly Queer “outing” of gays and lesbians has “transformed from an invitation into a command” (Duggan 212). Duggan finds that the “new gay militant” journalists using gay outings of those in the public light have rejected liberal values of privacy to increase the spread tolerance.
Grewal, Inderpal, and Caren Kaplan. "Making It Perfectly Queer Lisa Duggan." An Introduction to Women's Studies: Gender in a Transnational World. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2006. 211-15. Print.
Warner, Michael. Fear of a queer planet: queer politics and social theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Print.
Wittig, Monique. The straight mind and other essays. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. Print.