March 27, 2017

Activism and Imitation: Can You Relate?

Photo of a stop sign on the CGU campus

By Sulaiman Ahmad

The simulacrum is never what hides the truth—it is truth that hides the fact that there is none.

The simulacrum is true.

—Jean Baudrillard

Amidst our current political climate, Baudrillard’s opening salvo to Simulacra and Simulation, paraphrased from Ecclesiastes, has been on my mind quite often. For those who don’t dabble in literary or cultural theory, the simulacrum, more or less, attempts to define imitation.

Whether in a class discussion, presentation, or numerous other contexts, the choices of our current political leadership have undoubtedly been raised in the faces of students. It’s no mystery that people are feeling conflicted over whether to openly clash with their peers, remain neutral, or, more dramatically, become an activist. What is the truth behind activism? Is it hidden? Does it fixate you to an institution? Will your world crumble if you don’t do something about the things you care about? There are only ever long answers to these divisive questions. We become divided, however, because we care.

Imitation helps us avoid getting lost in the long answers (especially as graduate students trying to do ten things at once). Activism, if nothing else, is a performance to either change or sustain the world around us, to hold onto an old truth or make a new one. Imitation is configuring those truths to our individual and collective needs. It is caring enough to act because of the understanding that you can change, you can sustain, and, most importantly, if you’re living and breathing, you do relate.

Imitation Performance Tips

Answering The Divisions (Don’t drown in information)
We’ve all had those moments when either a colleague says something insufferable or that one person on social media commits to yet another diatribe about something new that divides you from them, that divides you from millions of others. This doesn’t mean you should squander your time trying to become the epitome of information before you respond. As graduate students, we have a nexus of research and development at our fingertips. We should not make the mistake of nesting on it. Determine your relation and act on it.

The Broken Record of Quotes
If you’ve clicked copy on one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s quotations, before you click paste on your Facebook status, please just stop and ask yourself two questions: Have I read his works? Am I quoting him out of context? If you even slightly think you’re about to answer yes, then don’t do it. Posting a quote onto Facebook will not convince everyone on your friend’s list to believe what you believe. This is not activism; it’s uninformed and lazy. Instead, engage people. Start discussions, no matter the venue.

Join a Club or Organization
If you’re not completely sure how to actively participate, then join a club. If you know exactly how you want to participate, then, still, join a club. Sharing your insights with other people devoted to activism will multiply the power of your voice. Clubs on campus, such as Humanities In Action, are there to both hear and flesh out your voice.

Proxy Activism (Donating)
Many organizations out there are fighting the good fight (and some fighting the not-so-good-fight). Either way, they often need money to provide legal assistance and charity. Find the ones that support your mentality and try to spare a few bucks to help them out. Here are few to get you started: American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Council on American Islamic Relations.

Validation (Stop looking for it)
The greatest activists in history didn’t register themselves to some kind of activist directory that gave them the title of “activist.” They merely acted. They performed. They did something to realize their mind’s eye for the people and issues they cared about. Don’t wait around for someone to tell you you’re an activist. There are no hidden truths, only performed beliefs.