Oppression as Catalyst for Activism


Subcomandate Marcos of the Zapatista revolutionary force, quoted in Tim Jordan’s 2002 novel Activism!, alludes to the alluring concept of the “tree of tomorrow”, which represents humanity’s ability to plant change (through activism) now in hopes of attaining an ideal future of mutual respect alongside a robust rejection of the “false light” that serves to deny us the liberty from oppression that we desperately need (137). To extend his metaphor, let us consider a barren and contentious plot of land with a relative low property value as a result of its quality. An oppressive force, that we will call Self, controls what the Others can and cannot do on this land (Jordan 144). Through this oppression, the Others, beings of the trees, have greatly suffered, as the bleak reality they experience today does not permit them to enjoy their particular definition of the “good life”. So instead, they plant the seeds of change, and over time, they begin to receive shade from a Self that, in the past, threatened their way of life and overall wellbeing. This quasi-fable represents what it means to be an activist! throughout history and into the present today. It demonstrates a refusal to accept the present desolate reality of an oppressive life or regime, and instead to work toward a more idyllic future, wherein activist!s may derive their ethics. The denuded plot of land symbolizes the right of activist!s to create a movement in the space where oppression exists. Certainly if we think of other cases, its blank state would allow for other activist!s to create different movements, which is vital in our understanding of activism! as a whole according to Jordan.

In the end, this extended metaphor represents a broad, but still limited representation of the ways that activism! can transform societies for the better. It demonstrates that even in the darkest of situations, bleakness and oppression can serve as a catalyst for activism. The aspect of activism that I find more interesting is the effect on the society, or perhaps the Self, itself. In this metaphor, the Self becomes the eventual mutual recipient of a plot of land that has certainly appreciated in value through the planting of a new forest. In this sense, it signifies that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that our society is improved through a sense of solidarity with the activists who wish to change reality for the better.

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