What advice do you have for aspiring activists?

As a young activist in my early 20’s, I’ve stressed over where I want to take my life time and again. I even wrote about this issue my senior year of college. This stress comes in ebbs and flows with moments of epiphany screaming “Oh my god, You are ONLY 23! Chill out!” and other moments screaming “You’re 23 and only getting older! Time is ticking!” Graduating from a top U.S. university comes with many privileges. But as someone who spent most of her time community organizing in college, the question of career becomes tricky. Social justice can be found in many realms: do I want to be a full-time writer, youth worker, artist, teacher, political organizer or maybe even legislative work with a progressive politician? Thus, in many of my Feministing Five interviews I can’t help but ask: How do you make a career out of activism sustainable and what advice do you have for young people that want to go down that road?

Kenyon Farrow, my interview from last week, answered this way:

I would say read, read, read. There’s too much anti-intellectualism on the left. I hear a lot of people critiquing people they see as academics or not doing “real work in the world” and it’s dangerous. It’s important that people engage ideas. If you consider yourself an organizer there’s no way you shouldn’t be reading Huey Newton’s “Revolutionary Suicide” or Elaine Brown’s “Taste of Power.” You should also read people who challenge you. Sometimes, I read shit that’s too complicated for me and I end up reading it two or three times!

Not exactly a step-by-step manual on what to do next (and, really, the answers to that question never are), but a very interesting response nonetheless. He brings up a couple points here. One being the idea that we should continually sharpen our minds by reading. This is great advice especially for people like myself who enjoy writing and consider making it a career.

We should be reading a lot to not only understand issues better and improve our writing, but we should also know who people in the industry are that are making waves. Another point he brings up is this idea of organizers dismissing academic work as not truly from “the community” and the seemingly hypocritical nature of such a belief. Farrow again:

It’s important to engage rather than dismiss people’s work we consider academic or not based in the community and, quite frankly, that’s a classist argument. People say, “The community doesn’t relate to this.” However, a lot of people in my family don’t have college degrees and I talk to them the same way I’m talking to you. I’m often bothered by people claiming what they think the community is ready or not ready for. My life is testament to people who don’t have degrees, but who read and can engage in really intellectually rigorous conversations.

What do you all think? What advice do you have for young activists who want to make a career out of their activism? And what are your thoughts on engaging theory with action? Is there a divide among “ivory tower” intellectuals and the “real” work on the ground (all in quotes because these terms are hard to define) and, if so, how do we bridge that divide?

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