The new activist pilgrimage is post-Katrina New Orleans. Every one of the activists I interviewed -- whether environmental justice advocate, veteran, philanthropist, teacher, or Internet guru -- has cut their activist teeth in NOLA. For better and worse.
Small is beautiful again. We're still committed to making broken systems (education, healthcare, prison etc.) more just, but if today, right now, all we can do is make one person's day within that system more kind, fair, or dignified, we'll devote ourselves wholeheartedly to it.
We're fiercely intersectional in our analysis. Environmental justice, for example, isn't just an issue of saving trees anymore. It's about inner city asthma rates, third world poverty, and structural violence. As John Muir said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we usually find it is hitched to everything else in the universe."
Whether social worker, political strategist, social issue filmmaker, or community organizer, we are all re-humanizers. We are trying to take this increasingly depersonalized, rapid-fire, bureaucratic world and make it feel like home again.
To be an activist these days does not mean being a martyr. We're putting joy, spontaneity, and creativity into our good works.
We're breaking all the rules regarding old-fashioned philanthropy. A new generation of people who have inherited wealth are giving most and sometimes all of it away as "social justice philanthropists." The old model of making grassroots activists spend inordinate time applying for grants, doing elaborate accounting, creating reports etc. has been abandoned in favor of a relationship-based investment.
After decades of seeing all the problems elsewhere, we're reclaiming the old adage, "Think globally, act locally." Many young activists are devoting our energy to transforming our own cities, neighborhoods, and communities. We're eating from CSAs and food co-ops, pooling our resources to give local artists grants, and sharing rides to and from work.
The lines between those being served and those serving are being blurred.
We're not trying to succeed perfectly, because we know that's not possible in such a globalized, economically-fragile, morally complex word. Instead, we're trying to fail beautifully. As William Faulkner said, "All of us failed to match our dreams of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible."
- Young people are abandoning the "save the world" rhetoric we were raised with and seeking out a more practical, complex analysis of social change. We don't want to "save the world." We're too smart to think we can. We want to live in it -- flawed, fierce, loving, and humble.
Courtney E. Martin is the author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, out this week on Beacon Press. She is also a Senior Correspondent at The American Prospect and an editor at Feministing.com.