At Two Swords’ Length: Is This Activism?

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Is this Activism?


By Sommer Omar


Of course I’m an activist. See, activism is a lifestyle, not just an activity. Existence is resistance, and I resist your corporate mumbo-jumbo and structural hegemony just by occupying space with my radical, Othered body. I put myself on the gears of the Machine, and I’m chipping away at your imperialist statues with my words.

I don’t sit in Butler; I occupy Butler. For real, that’s my stuff, it’s been there for days, get out. I’m not going to be shunted along the oppressive higher educational industrial complex by just quietly doing the reading. When I attend Lit Hum every 3 weeks or so, I occupy those classes, because the patriarchy needs a stern talking to. (Where are all the women writers on the syllabus? Why has no one ever asked this question before?)


I’ll keep my hand raised throughout an entire Introduction to Latino Studies lecture, in order to point out that total and complete equality doesn’t already exist and should. I spit upon the words of Aristotle and tear asunder his bullshit ideology. I will curb the patriarchal tides and divide the heretical waves of backwards thought: call me Moses. It’s not that I refuse to flush, it’s that I insist on keeping toilets occupied. The toilet is a site of struggle! You’re welcome, Schermerhorn, Mudd, and IAB.

And my nails? That’s what it looks like when you dig your hands into the Earth to understand its sufferings. Occupying toilets is one thing, but it’s a whole other ball game to occupy land – and no, it’s not colonialist when I’m doing it. But it is when an objectifying primitivist sculpture displaces me from my Butler smoking spot, or the patriarchy is playing ball games on my soil. All I’m saying is what we need to do is end balls. And hegemony! 

I know about injustice—I live in Wien. Every morning when I wake up, I see what New York’s affordable housing crisis really means. If people only knew about these systemic problems facing my hallway (No AC?! What is this, NYCHA?), then I could call more students my brothers and sisters in this fight for freedom.

I am dedicated to giving back and serving this community. Every night, I don my wicker-woven free trade beanie and my Docs and become Gotham’s last shot at redemption. My weapon of choice: Truth. Instead of doing my readings, I leave notes in the margins: the same logic that assigns 200 pages of Hegel a week erects the image of the structural oppressor in the mind of the structurally oppressed! And connects all structural oppressions! Complicity! Black and brown bodies! Decolonization of knowledge production! Seneca is a dick.

I’ll decolonize my bank account in a sec, but to do that I first need to decolonize my mind, and maybe my MacBook and its plethora of important stickers helps me do that. I share BuzzFeed and Everyday Feminism articles and comment “this” on sassy comments in my class Facebook group so people realize the tremors I’m stirring. I populate op-ed space with lessons learned and truths untold about sculptures, inequality and injustice. The power of the pen is mightier than the power of the men.

So I spit on you, and I spit on Marching Band members too. I don’t look up when I’m entering Butler because Demosthenes is triggering. I don’t wear white because white is offensive. I flip off clouds. Yesterday, I kicked a sheep. So wake up, sheeple, and #staywoke. It’s only by actively disrupting the ideologies of the system that we can really be activists.



By Hallie Nell Swanson

I often hear that we’re a campus of activists. But everyone on this campus thinks that activism is a lifestyle, not an activity.

The following things are not activism: Holding up a whiteboard on Low Steps (“I need feminism because women poop too?” Don’t tell me how to be a woman). Being in CSER, MESAAS, or Women and Gender studies. Clicking “Attending” on a lecture with “Womanist” in the title (it’s at CUNY—you’re not going.) Writing an op-ed about a statue you don’t like or a speaker you don’t like or an op-ed you don’t like. Writing a discussion post where you call out Rousseau for being problematic. Writing for HuffPo, or BuzzFeed, or Slant, or the Columbia Spectator, about the trouble you faced as the only half-Dominican half-
Jewish queer nonbinary kid at Harvard-Westlake who wasn’t invited to Joshua’s bar mitzvah. The “share” button. Stickers on your laptop. Writing “tw.” Flashing your tits at Bacchanal. Having tits. Piercing them. Your radio show. Your Twitter bio. Your thesis. Being vegan.

You people are all hypocrites. Your anthropology fellowship is funded by money from the slave trade, and the site that paid you for that open letter to your racist professor is backed by an Israeli tech firm. That whiteboard probably came from a sweatshop, just like your “This is what a feminist looks like” shirt, your Apple Mac (“designed in Cupertino”) and your Doc Martens (“Made in England”) did. Your illegal drugs are fueling America’s exploitation of people of color in the Global South, your Adderall is funding the American
medical-industrial complex, and your nightly whining about white supremacist undertones in your Ethnobotany syllabus is giving me a headache.

Lighting a scented candle in the name of self-care is not activism. However much your Facebook status tried to make it look that way, your hair is not activism, and calling out other people’s hair is two degrees of not-activism. Not going to class because you feel especially oppressed by the patriarchy today isn’t acting at all, it’s inertia, and so is smoking rollies outside Butler while you talk about it. You don’t get a cookie for not being a straight, white male.

But I do get a cookie, because I’m a real activist. I scorn the linguistic turn in critical theory’s neglect of structural factors. I’m all up in that economic base, and I’m using my privilege for good. I’m on student council! I work within the system, not outside it, to innovate and ideate solutions. I’m not the bad guy. I did
an unpaid internship at a social enterprise startup that leverages the sharing economy to disrupt exploitative hierarchical employment structures. (It’s called Uber.)

Look, I’ve moved past the hypocrisy, and you should too. Wake up and smell the fair trade, organic coffee: real activists are in sororities—Theta is dismantling the patriarchy from the inside. Real activists major in Econ and are going to do great things giving back to Columbia College with all that cash from JP Morgan. Real activists wear boat shoes. Real activists get a King’s Crown Leadership Award. Real activists gentrify. Real activists are Dean Valentini. Let’s not lie here: while we’re all implicated in systems of oppression, the best we can do is act on it, get stuck in and take advantage. Now that’s activism.