Defend Truth


We’re (nearly) all activists now – but if you’re not one, please stand aside


Lwando Xaso is an attorney, writer and speaker . She is the founder of Including Society. She is also the author of the book, ‘Made in South Africa, A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress’. Follow her at @includingsociety.

Other than the global Covid-19 pandemic there have been major social upheavals, strikes and protests both online and offline that have compounded our strife.

This year has made activists out of all of us, whether we chose the role or not. Essential workers during the uncertain beginning of Covid-19 were revered. They were no longer just performing the jobs that are so often overlooked and sometimes disrespected in our society.

Now a retail worker was no longer just working the tills at a grocery store, they were frontline workers. Some essential workers were cast in roles that some of them did not choose but undertook out of necessity.  Leaders all over the world declared we were at war. The enemy was menacing and invisible but conquerable if we all assumed our roles as activists and soldiers.

We were all mandated to play our part in defeating the enemy. Some of us scrambled for the best way to be useful at a time that required our restraint. A new language of activism framed our year of crisis – flattening the curve, social distancing, quarantine, handwashing, lockdown and shutdown. As we reluctantly let go of who we had planned to be in 2020 and took on the forced roles of defeating a mutable enemy, it seemed that other plagues wanted to dare our tentative commitment to activism. Other than the global Covid-19 pandemic there have been major social upheavals, strikes and protests both online and offline that have compounded our strife.

In our offline reality we wear masks as an indication of our battle against Covid-19. Similarly, our online personas are being monitored for compliance. I posted an image standing next to a friend without wearing a mask and chastisement ensued in the comments section. There was a reason my mask was off but I did not feel like explaining myself so I deleted the offending image.

This was also true with the Black Lives Matter online protests. Black Out Tuesday, on 2 June 2020, was deemed a day of collective action of protest when social media users would post a single photo of a black square alongside the hashtag #blackouttuesday. This would indicate one’s outrage about the apparent devaluation of black lives and one’s commitment to end racism.

What most of us did not know was that even when you chose not to participate, you were participating.

In my work as a facilitator I found myself mediating disputes between those who chose to wear their hearts on their social media profiles and those who didn’t. Those on the other side of the dispute pointed to those participating in online activism but not involving themselves in other forms of activism, such as offline protesting.

Now there are the #endsars protests in Nigeria by the young people calling their government to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars), which is terrorising citizens. In order not to be hypocritical, if you posted in support of Black Lives Matter you also have to support fellow freedom fighters in Nigeria because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Those who were not consistent in their outrage were called out for their selectiveness. We also have to support the activists in Congo and Namibia where other significant protests have been happening.

We all take up and choose our causes and perform our activism in the way most suitable for who we are and our needs. If you have the means and the bandwidth then you have the duty to do what you can.

But no one should be coerced into activism. It has to be authentic. We cannot shame people into taking up causes. But we can expect, as a bare minimum, that we all commit to harm reduction by not obstructing those who are doing the work. DM168


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