Widgets Magazine


Stop telling activists what they need to do

“The problem with Stanford activism,” by Neil Chaudhary, caught my attention after sitting in on an informal discussion about the article’s inability to see the positive connections between the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s and the activism occurring on campus today.

After taking the time to read the article myself, I was further convinced that the way the Civil Right’s Movement is taught and retold is used as propaganda to perpetuate  inaction and belittle activists bold enough to continue in the spirit of the movement.

The activism of today is the child of the Civil Rights Movement moderates and conservatives heavily exalt as the model for activism. In fact, dissenters of this movement serve as co-opters of the Civil Rights Movement. They ignore that the Civil Rights Movement lived on the spirits and momentum of agitators and those who would accept nothing but freedom.

Martin Luther King did not always have the support of the moderates or even other activists within the movement. King was only one actor of many who each had their own methods and ideologies about change and liberation. King was often in conversation activists who did just as much if not more for the movement. These key actors were the younger activists involved in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the legendary Diane Nash.

King was not the only activist invested in the Civil Rights Movement, and he is not the only actor who made change happen. It took a collective effort, and they all did not agree with each other. Additionally, they all did not agree with him.

Like the conversations of today, many thought King was simply going about justice the wrong way.

Allies and opponents included.

In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King responded to a white moderate brethren of faith who called his actions “unwise and untimely.” In it, King highlights the fact that methods of action are criticized more than the circumstances that brought them about. In other words, they were worried about how King was responding to injustice, with direct actions and civil disobedience, rather than worrying about the actual injustice, racism and Jim Crow.

“You may well ask ‘Why direct action, why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t [dialogue] a better path’….Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue,” King states.

This conversation sounds eerily familiar.

There are always going to be people who disagree with methods and rhetoric, but it is essential to examine the position of those who have so much to say against the actions.

The men who were telling King to wait and to chose other methods did not understand that people were dying.

People are dying.

Communities are in states of emergency fearing death at every traffic stop, and there are people who are policing rhetoric and methods?

Activism is not a monolith. Just as Martin Luther King was critiqued by other activists and advocates, activists today have critiques and opinions about actions. However, there is an understanding of the need for direct action and therefore agitation, and activism is not always clean.

It isn’t always perfect. It isn’t always digestible. It isn’t always for the moderate.

This is why one must not confuse the role of the ally with the role of the activist. The activist is an advocate for the community and the needs and wants of the community they are fighting for come first. The ally tries to make their community care. Each uses their position to accomplish unique work.

It isn’t always the role of the activist to make those who do not understand listen.

The activist puts their community first. The ally can organize their own community and create meaningful dialogue that is useful for their audience.

The activist does not always have to convince communities why their issues are important. They seek the most effective route to change.

King believed that the greatest obstacle on the path to freedom was more than the openly racist White Citizens Council or the Ku Klux Klan. Our admiration for his legacy may dictate which quotes end up in history textbooks, but the reality is that King also called the white moderate out on standing in the way of justice.

“The white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’”

Stop telling activists what they need to do.

Contact Mysia Anderson at mysia ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

About Mysia Anderson

Mysia Anderson '17 is a sophomore majoring in African & African American studies. She is from Miami, Florida and is an unapologetic Black feminist. She enjoys poems about love, free food, and dancing to Beyoncé. You can contact Mysia at mysia@stanford.edu.
  • Anon

    Your articles get dumber and dumber by the week. You’re basically trying to rid yourself of all criticism or responsibility by saying “Stop telling us what to do!” You sound like my 5 year old niece when she throws a tantrum. Engage. Debate. Formulate powerful arguments. It’s what adults do. Just because you’ve learn fancy pseudo intellectual garbage in whatever classes you take doesn’t make you a smart person. There are idiots with phDs.

  • Uche

    Please don’t ever align yourself with dr Martin Luther King ever again. Yes, racism is real and still exists in this country, I know that as a black man. Your intentions are good. But the way you talk about race and opression issues, with all your obsession with identity and sexuality, white privilege, cis privilege, male privilege, and all the other privilege flavors. The way you always complaining and complaining, never offering real solutions or practical course of action, and your unwillingness to enter productive dialogue to find solutions is the exact antithesis to the kind of passionate, honorable work done by dr King. Don’t ever dare try to hide behind him or compare yourself to him again.
    The black community has 99 problems to deal with right now, trust me, I know, and 80% of the work that needs to be done is on ourselves. Yet to you we’re always victims and nothing is our fault. I’m not tryna rant on here. Good day

  • Lulu

    Your articles have been incredible and unapologetic- thank you.

  • Bob

    Right on! You’ve been so successful…oh wait.

  • Stewart

    I think you read the article, but I don’t think you understood, so I’m going to try to break this down for you in way we can all understand.

    First, Mysia invoked King’s legacy because he is often referred in contrast to the confrontational tactics used in today’s Black Liberation movement. You’ll see memes with words like “this is the right way to do it” or in your own response “…the kind of passionate, honorable work done by dr King”. However, Mysia points out that during his time, King (and the many other actors of the movement) used tactics that were NOT always well received. Sit-ins, marches, and boycotts were agitating and controversial at the time. This is why Mysia quoted a passage from the Letter from Birmingham Jail, where King directly addresses the moderates that had been relentlessly criticizing his tactics, many of them also Black (as you identified yourself).

    Secondly, please do not devalue Mysia’s role as a scholar and a writer for justice. Her ability to articulate and disseminate often very complex ideas of the inequality in our society is necessary. She writes in the legacy of those like Angela Davis, Ida B. Wells, and Michelle Alexander. Without people like her, we wouldn’t have the terms ‘prion-industrial complex’ or the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’; both very useful terms in getting people to conceptualize an emergency in the US. I’m not sure what you mean by productive dialogue (are you expecting her to knock on your door and strike up conversation?) but by writing articles, she reaches a large audience and fosters more conversations about these important issues than she could canvassing campus for a day. Not only is her writing brave, but it’s effective and efficient.

    TL;DR: Stop telling activists what to do (because you don’t actually know your history). However, I do encourage you to read the Letter from Birmingham Jail. It might be King’s best piece of writing.

  • R. Hutchins

    When young people are asked, “What are you interested in?” they answer that they are interested in justice: they want justice for the Negro, they want justice for the Third World. If you say, “Well, what is justice?” they haven’t any idea.

  • anonymous

    But Neil Chaudhary isn’t white…

  • Homeboy

    Mays kids Mysia wife, Mysia husband cuz they rapin’ errybody out here

  • Homeboy2

    Hahahaha that video was aaaages ago

  • Senior

    You’re right, and people should stop telling activists what to do because no one knows what the most effective route to change is until change happens, and it’s not happening yet. But by that same token, shouldn’t the activists stop telling the allies what they can or can’t do? You wrote that it’s the responsibilities of the allies to engage in dialogue, build support, and rally communities, but then the activist community denigrates and suppresses avenues of dialogue every day. They’ve turned “dialogue” into a dirty word on our campus. If there’s a relationship between activists and allies, and allies must dialogue in order to garner support for the activists, aren’t spaces for dialogue a good thing? I’m not saying all the activists should gather around a table and talk things out, but why prevent others from doing so or chastising those who try to do so?

  • Homeboy

    For them justice = equality of outcome.

    You’re right that their conception of justice isn’t very well thought out.

  • tree_alum

    What’s up with all of these articles from columnists that claim that they are above feedback and dialogue on particular issues? Instead of thrusting your voice out there to be heard, why don’t you work at communicating things that make people want to listen?

  • mogden

    Personally, I find her writing extremely predictable and consequently quite tiresome.

  • alum

    Then stop telling everyone else to do. Please remember that you’re allegedly fighting for “equality” when responding.