I have a “theory”* that “activists” are like baby geese.
When they peck through the hard shell of enforced apathy/functional stupidity that we are encouraged to encase ourselves in, then the first thing they see when they see the light becomes their “mother.” Whether it’s a (climate) camp, a march, a rally, whatever, they come to think of that as “normal” activism, and everything else as a deviation/descent from the norm (in both the statistical and normative sense.)
Here’s a quote from Jennifer Egan’s novel “The Invisible Circus” to “prove” (cough cough) my theory. A young American is writing home in 1970 from Paris;
Dear Mom, Phoebe and Barry, My French is the worst but luckily we have a friend who translates. Everyone in Paris keeps talking about the demonstrations of two years ago when they tore up cobblestones from the roads and threw them at the cops and they built barricades like the French Revolution. The whole country went on strike for a couple of weeks literally no one worked or studied they just wandered through the streets talking to each other. Nobody locked their doors people slept in strangers’ houses and fell in love and pulled the hands off the clocks outside because time was stopped. (Remember Mom?) Everyone says how it was the most incredible time of their life and how depressing it was when the whole thing finally ended and they were just students again, supposed to take exams and get jobs and all that. Some people say they almost wish it never happened, so they wouldn’t know how things could be and they’d still be happy.
[My previous partner, who was French, told me she knew of people like this, in the late 1990s, aching for those magical moments.]
The “theory” is aggressively arrogant, condescendingly cynical and supremely simplistic. And those are its good qualities, for which I love it. I mentioned this eggs-ellent to someone far smarter than me, of longer experience with “activists,” and she felt it was aa, cc and ss (but had the good manners not to say so.) She thinks that what actually happens is people “shop around” until they find a group/vibe/scene (my words) that fits their habits/lifestyle etc and then stick with that (and the repetition of tactics that that implies.).
What think the rest of you?
(I suppose we could go and look at the literature of how people get “recruited” into social movement organisations (mostly by friends, apparently), but that would be too much like hard work, so screw it – let’s just mouth off with our gut feelings and say that the plural of anecdote is data.)
* In the sense that “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” was a theory – i.e. gibberish.