By George Cassidy Payne with Gandhi Earth Keepers International
The great poet and novelist Alice Walker once said that “activism is the rent we pay for living on the planet.” Speaking as a white American male who is able minded, non-handicapped, heterosexual, English speaking, Christian raised, university educated, and endowed with birthright citizenship, I think I know exactly what Walker means.
My position on this planet is both a blessing and a burden. I am blessed because I have been granted every conceivable privilege under the sun. I am burdened because my privilege has far too often come at the expense of my fellow brothers and sisters just trying to survive with dignity. For instance, my maleness has silenced women. My whiteness has threatened people of color. My citizenship has justified genocide. My “able” body has contributed to the perception of disability in others. My education has helped to support a global caste system. My English language has drowned out the voices of other dialects and muted the songs of other cultures. My heterosexuality has become a violent norm in the eyes of the LGBQT community; and my religion has been a source of persecution for Jews and Muslims alike.
When I honestly reflect on my life being both a blessing and a burden, it occurs to me that in so many ways I represent what is wrong with the world. I am the one who needs to be reformed. It is my citizenship that is corrupting the health of families and endangering the sacredness of the nation. It is my sexual orientation which is contorting and disfiguring the meaning of love. It is my religion which is rotten with fundamentalism. It is my skin tone which needs purification. And it is my education which is making the human race sick with ignorance.
For these reasons I view my activism as the price I must pay to not only live on the planet but to live with the planet. In other words, if I don’t fight for women, I am against women. If I don’t fight racism, I am a racist. If I don’t fight nationalism, I am a terrorist. If I don’t fight elitism, I am a tyrant. If I don’t fight homophobia, I am a homophobic. If I don’t fight Christian triumphalism, I am a Christ killer. In the esteemed and humane words of Archbishop Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
It is really that simple. I need to be an activist because I can’t afford to waste the gifts that I have been given sitting on the sidelines of social and spiritual conflict. There is actually no sideline to sit on. We are all playing the game. What matters is which side you choose to be on.