26 April 2015

Don't listen to them.

Sometimes I am asked, if I could say anything to my younger self, or to an aspiring organizer just starting out, what would I say?

This is the answer I give. This is what I wish I had known. This is what so many of us need(ed) to have said to us:

People in power will say anything to silence you. 

They will play to your emotions and guilt you. They will make you question whether anyone you love truly supports or understands you. They will tell you that you'll never get anywhere with whatever tactics or tone you're using.

They will tell you that what you want is unrealistic or impossible. They will tell you that you don't really know what you're talking about. They'll hit you with numbers. They'll hit you with condescension. They'll hit you with deeply invasive personal attacks.

They'll water down everything you demand and try to co-opt your movement. They'll even hit you with flattery and try to win you over.

Don't listen. 

And, just as important, as scary, as necessary to know:

People in community with you will hurt you. 

They will question your values. They will make you doubt your own politics and faith. They will try to turn your friends and fellow activists against you. They will take the language of social justice and twist it to their own ends.

They will attack you with bitterness and rage for even the smallest mistakes. They will make it all about them instead of about the community or the movement.

They'll come down on you for falling in love with theory. They'll come down on you for not understanding theoryspeak.

They'll shame you for every action you don't or can't participate in. They'll tell you to get out of the movement, that you never belonged in the first place.

Don't listen. 


  1. Hello Lydia,

    We worked together on The Autism Issue of The New Idealist and I've been following your blog since then.

    I was very moved by this article and just thought I would say that you have my support. I recently conducted an interview with the Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society in the UK (link in signature) and have found during my research into 'The Autism Industry' that I identify with the points you make in the first part of the article.

    Your article 'The Long Road Ahead for the Autistic Rights Movement' for The Autism Issue was number one on the site for ages and is still ranked number two now - and the site still gets around 3,000-4,000 visits per month even though it is on hiatus.

    Regarding some people within the community being hurtful - don't let anyone tell you, you don't belong - you have done some great work on advocating the rights of autistic people and I would hazard a guess that whoever said that to you has had nowhere near as much success as you have had and they couldn't inspire people if they tried.

    As you say yourself 'Don't listen to them'....

    Best Regards,

    The other Lydia
    The New Idealist

  2. Good advice! ;)

    I'm not nearly as "movement" oriented myself. I prefer to straddle the middle ground and work on solutions, rather than the politics of it. I'd rather make people think than make them yell. But that's just me. It's not that I'm conciliatory or that I do things the "normal" way. It's just that I don't fight about it any more. I work around the roadblocks (circumvention) or I tear them down (demolition), but I tend to be quiet enough about it and slow enough about it that people who'd rather stop me don't see me as a threat until it's too late. I'm not showy, but I tend to be effective--in the long run.

    People used to tell me that I couldn't... or I wouldn't... Their reasons varied--I got married too young, I had my kids too young, my kids were too disabled, blah, blah, blah. Now, the people who really know me don't say those things any more, because they know I won't listen.

    And that's the key. No, you can't change the world...if you listen to all the people who will tell you that you can't. There are a lot of those. But if you honestly believe you can change the world, nudge by little nudge, then you just might do it. I choose to believe.


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