Activism has clearly risen to the forefront of political discussion since the election of Donald Trump. It motivated the creation of this “Activist Spotlight” series, as well as countless other movements across the United States and the world. But this development in what it means to be civically engaged and to fight for change has overlooked groups that have been forced to fight decades before Trump. We can see this ignorance in the way mainstream society talks about the student activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas versus the student activists of the Black Lives Matter movement or the superficiality of certain participants of the Women’s March. Aasiyah Ali, senior, spoke about the everyday forms of activism and how Bard views them.
“I feel like waking up every day as a black woman is a form of activism,” Ali said. “I feel like the root of activism is probably like existence in the sense of like there are people fighting to simply breathe and exist and be recognized for who they are.”
She acknowledged the sometimes performative nature of social justice and its role on campus.
“I think when people think about it, they think of this really huge social justice weird type of thing, especially at Bard, everybody loves protesting and vigils, and although they are amazing, they tend to be really performative, and you sort of forget that at the root of it there’s a person on the other side that’s not even yelling just to yell,” she said. “These are people’s lives and their existence is the thing that’s being threatened. It’s really easy to get lost up in that, especially here where it super ‘liberal.’ The root of activism, at least to me is just like fighting to be seen and be heard and be like validated.”
Ali is involved in a number of race-related organizations. She has served as a co-head of Colored Women United (CWU) since the spring of 2016 and is involved in Black Student Organization. She is also currently organizing the Race Monologues, an annual poetry performance with original pieces written by students of color about their racial experience. She spoke about how she wants to empower young women of color.
“I realize that a lot of where my passions lie is making space for young women of color because I have most definitely grown up in spaces where my voice hasn’t been accommodated or [has been] silenced,” Ali said. “That’s partially what I am doing my senior project on, sort of finding different ways to give them advice and empower them and make them know that they are amazing.”
She said that CWU provides a space for navigating Bard. Particularly for students of color coming to a predominantly white school from a school where they are the majority, CWU keeps them from feeling silenced or pushed to the background.
Regarding activism at Bard, Ali said she felt there was a disconnect between the administration and groups led by students of color.
“I feel like the administration doesn’t really know how much work is being done,” she said. “I was talking about this the other day with a couple of people and they were saying how, a lot of these [groups], there’s like BSO, Million Hoodies, there’s CWU, BAB. There’s a lot of work that’s being done, however, nobody is really paying attention to it, or no one really takes it seriously because they are just student-run clubs; but they are doing really really important work, and if they weren’t doing it, nobody else necessarily would.”
There is also a disconnect between different groups of people in terms of what the work is meant to accomplish. The point of activism can be lost when it is mainly thought of as something you do occasionally, whether that is sharing something on social media or participating in a march every once in a while. This kind of performative activism, sometimes called “slacktivism,” dominates the conversation in a way that drowns out the voices of marginalized groups, despite the best intentions. Participating in the pseudo liberalism Ali talks about is an act of privilege. It appears to be an attempt to do good, but its lack of authenticity inadvertently devalues the struggle of marginalized groups for whom activism is a constant fight.
“It’s not just a discussion in the classroom; it’s someone’s life,” Ali said. “The root of activism, at least to me, is fighting to be seen and be heard and be validated.”