Inactive Activist

This past week has me questioning what I should be doing. I guess I’ve been feeling I was on the right path for me for some time, and it’s disconcerting to not be so sure now. I know times of conflict, times when mistakes are made are the times when we grow. But I almost wish I could jump across this uncertainty to the other side. This floundering in the uncertainty is what is required though. There aren’t shortcuts for these struggles. Rather, the only shortcut is to not engage in the struggle, to the detriment of your Spirit.

The combination of my love of photography and activism has been a creative inspiration for many years. For me photography often expresses justice concepts and actions in ways words cannot. And photography is a way for me to contribute to the work of communities I would like to become part of. I’ve learned it is essential for me to listening deeply, and take the lead from those experiencing injustice. Photojournalism is a gift I can offer without inserting myself. The photos can be welcome, or not. I have learned it is important to be aware of the concept of cultural appropriation, though. Not to use images in ways not welcome.

In the past, if there was a public justice event, I would be there, taking photos and doing whatever else was asked of me by those in the lead. I feel this strong urge to go to Des Moines to participate in, and photograph the Black Lives Matter/police violence rallies. At the end of this are photos I took at Black Lives Matter actions in Indianapolis several years ago. Then I was peripherally involved with Indy10, the Black Lives Matter group in Indianapolis. At the end there is also a story about taking a “Quakers-Black Lives Matter” sign to a weekly peace vigil in Indianapolis.

I think the demonstrations now are even more consequential because they confront the increasingly authoritarian actions of the president and Republicans. These days I often think of the concentration camps, the killing of six million Jewish people, that happened because the German citizenry didn’t stop the Nazis. I hope the massive demonstrations occurring now can turn back the authoritarianism here.

The other challenge with activism is where does change happen? I believe most often it happens with years of struggle. A good Quaker friend has actually been working for years on racial and policing issues in Minneapolis. I would like to think all that work helped create the possibilities for the changes that might happen now as a result of the killing of George Floyd. One thing about activism is you might never know the effect of something you have done.

Likewise, I’ve spent the last four or five years leaning about/from indigenous peoples. It has been a slow but very rewarding process to build these connections and friendships. This is the work I’m called to do these days.

I guess the question is whether we can or should concentrate on our individual work, and/or also join the larger public actions. My mind is saying go to the demonstrations, but my Spirit is saying maintain your focus on the decolonizing work. If the authoritarianism gets much worse, I think that might change. The title “Inactive Activist” might really mean where to focus your activism. Part of this might also relate to how much energy you have, and the best way to use that energy.

My friend Kathy Byrnes has written an excellent article related to these ideas and the killing of George Floyd: Officers kneel with protestors at George Floyd action.


I had a more recent experience that was uncomfortable when I began to take a Black Lives Matter sign to our weekly peace vigil in downtown Indianapolis.

Taking that sign out in public renewed those old feelings of discomfort. I was really unsure of what the reaction of either white people or people of color would be. But I had no question about being led to make and display the sign. I know because I tried to talk myself out of it, and every time the spirit said ‘no, you have to do this.’ The second time I used the sign, I ended up in the middle of thousands of Black people who were downtown for the annual Black Expo event. I thought I really should turn around that day, but again the spirit said ‘keep going.’ I was really unsure of how that would turn out, but was surprised by the numerous indications of support from those in the crowd. The more common reaction were puzzled looks.

At the vigil, I was surprised at the number of times people driving past would honk their horns, or people would shout support and wave their hands. Many took pictures with their phones.

Once a young Black man stopped and said “a white man holding a Black Lives Matter sign”. I said, “yes, a white man holding a Black Lives Matter Sign”. He started to go away, but returned and asked “why are you doing it?” I told him about the Kheprw Institute (KI) that mentors Black youth that I had been involved with for several years now. And how those kids had become friends of mine. And I want a better life for them. He nodded, then said it was a brave thing to do. I only mention this to show how other people might see what you do in public. He went on to say how he felt justice had to be grounded in faith, and I agreed with him.

That exchange brings up questions of why you would participate in a vigil. In the case above about Black Lives Matter, I felt the implied question, directed at white people, was “do you think Black lives matter?” when people of color held those signs or said that in public.

I felt it was important that white people answer that question, publicly. Where else these days do we have opportunities to discuss these things? You rarely see such stories on television or in newspapers.

This entry was posted in Black Lives, Kheprw Institute, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Inactive Activist

  1. eej1320 says:

    Jeff, coming back to my community has me reflecting on similar challenges. Thank you for your post and your insight.

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