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Back March 25th, 2018 Forward
An Analogy for Allies

My ongoing analogy for people who are wanting to "ally" in activism with at least a bit of consideration:

The role of the ally in activism is like the role of the parent in children's sports. Allies can do all of the following things:

  • We can get people to events, both physically and metaphorically. (Physically in the sense of "actually taking people to protest sites, rallies, etc"; metaphorically in the sense of providing things like the money to cover transport costs, or by participating in consciousness raising or similar activities to help people get to the point where they want to participate in activism).
  • We can get them safely back home again (both physically and metaphorically - and this includes finding the funding for things like fines, bail, court payments, lawyers fees, and so on).
  • We can provide the emotional support which keeps people carrying out activist activities
  • We can provide the material support which makes activism possible in the first place (and this can be as simple as ensuring there's food, water and shelter available to people involved in activism).
  • We can look after other people's families while they're taking part in events. (This includes providing funding to cover the costs of families where family members have been imprisoned, fined, bailed or whatever).
  • We can help coach people in ways and means which will assist in getting a better result (bearing in mind the limitations which come built into the situation. A child can't do an adult training routine; people in marginalised groups aren't able to access certain forms of privilege)
  • We can referee - which in the context of protest actions means leveraging our privilege to ensure fair play on the part of the people with power.
  • We can keep score - sending pictures of what's going on to the media. Keeping track of who is being harmed by an action, and why.
  • We can cheer from the sidelines, and provide support in every form we can think of.
  • We can provide comfort, warmth and succour for people who are suffering a loss; and we can also assist in the "post-match" phase of planning how to do better next time.
  • We can provide material and physical support during the "game" phase of activism (food, water, first aid, warmth and so on).

What we can't and shouldn't be doing for marginalised groups as allies is attempting to play the game (that is, performing the activism) for them. We also can't expect a trophy for participating. Our contribution may be registered by other allies, but we shouldn't require the gratitude of the people playing the game in order to want to continue helping out. We can be there at the game, helping out and providing support and cheering from the sidelines, but out of simple respect to the players, we have to stay off the field unless we're needed on there.

You stop being an ally when you try and make the game all about you. You stop being an ally when you demand trophies for your participation. You stop being an ally when you demand payment in the form of gratitude and recognition for your actions. You stop being an ally when you invade the pitch, and demand everyone pay attention to you, you, you, and ignore what was going on in the game as it stood.

We also need to recognise, as allies, that we aren't strictly needed in order for the game (activism) to proceed. If we aren't there, if there aren't allies available, people will still organise and be activists (the same way kids will figure out ways to play team games even if there isn't a formal "league" organised by adults for them to play in) and their activism will still be just as valid, and just as real. Sometimes, we won't be welcome - and we need to accept this as well (in the same way kids resent having a fun game of street or back yard cricket with rules about "tip and run" and everyone having their turn at batting and bowling being taken over by adults who want to have a more "formal" game, with proper sides and designated bowlers and batters and so on).

The core truth is: it's their game, and they're the ones who are going to play it, whether we're there or not. We don't get to set the rules, we don't get to choose the players, and we don't get to have participation trophies for showing up to spectate.

(Agree? Disagree? Comments, critique and constructive criticism welcomed, especially from people who are engaged in activism or in activist spaces).

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

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Back March 25th, 2018 Forward