After all, activists are generally the ones who make sure that others are protected, the vulnerable and oppressed everywhere. Activists are the first responders in the face of injustice, demanding immediate aid and rescue for people in bad situations of all kinds, and also calling for long term transformation of the conditions that led to the emergencies they denounce.
What exactly is protection? Protection is the wide array of critical actions that families, friends, communities, colleagues and comrades deploy to ensure that our beloveds survive and thrive.
Protection encompasses countless acts and attitudes, large and small, that are baked into our days, often without our awareness. We do them simply as part of being connected to our people. Our protection methods evolve as needs and vulnerabilities change—as a baby becomes a toddler, an elder becomes more frail. As we all now have experienced, we adopt new protective practices as conditions change, although this process is not now, nor has it ever been, straightforward or free from struggle.
Even when we’re all facing the same danger–hurricane, war, pandemic–we don’t all have the same level of risk. Some risks are inherent to a person’s condition, such as being older or chronically ill. Or being a worker in healthcare and essential services, somebody more exposed for being on the front lines.
Two factors constitute the biggest risk factors of all, in the current pandemic and other times of general danger. The first is endemic injustice, the reason why people of color and the poor are disproportionately struck down by the coronavirus. The second factor is reckless endangerment on the part of ruling elites in government and business–i.e., the Beast.
Which brings us to activists and the particular risks they face. The people who speak up, speak out, and step forward to fight these last two major risks are subject to specific consequences, in addition to dangers faced by those around them. Risks such as being fired, silenced, vilified, and worse, especially in certain places and if you belong to certain groups. But always with that extra level of danger because of your activism.
A range of organizations and campaigns seek to protect targeted activist groups and individuals. There is much experience across our community on taking on specific attacks on our community against populations that are specifically targeted. But as a community whose very purpose is to defend the world from injustice and violence and fight for a system that safeguards equally the rights and lives of all, we are exposed to risks–from marginalization to martyrdom–and are often not fully able to protect ourselves and our FRCCs in our activist communities.
They have the strongest protection money, terror, habit and confusion can buy. They will go to any lengths–any lengths–to protect their power and privilege. This terrible reality, which we all wish were not so, is impossible to overstate: we have seen that the Beast stops at nothing, no matter how terrible–genocide, ecocide and other horrors. We can only expect that this will continue to be the case as we do whatever we can to push the world to resist and overcome the Beast.
What if we were more conscious and proactive about protecting the activist community–the neck sticker-outers, the boat rockers, the ones who face down the multiple attacks of the Beast? After all, activists, the worldwide first responders in the face of injustice at all levels, fighters for a fair, safe, compassionate world for all its beings, face a daunting set of occupational hazards: verbal and physical attack, firing, shunning, jail, disappearance, eviction, repression, murder. Plus less visible but no less dangerous risks: burnout, isolation, stress, stereotyping, surveillance. And more.
As more people understand and identify with activists as people, community, and culture, the better we’ll be able to defend against the array of difficulties and dangers we face.