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week 8

amanda.simone's picture

The readings this past week are making me think about how activism is valued in problematic ways. Gonnerman paints a story for us about how Elaine Bartlett was empowered by the activist work she did to fight the Rockefeller laws. Although other things in her life were not going as she hoped, she had her activism as a source of stability and strength, and began to see herself as an activist. We also read about formerly incarcerated students and activists at Berkeley. One thing I really liked about these texts was that they showed people who were affected by incarceration working against the system and helping others, unlike many of the "white savior" and "white lady bountiful" type figures we previously encountered.

I worry, though, that we (society) only value these narratives because of the fact that these individuals "turned their lives around" and became activists. It seems to connect to this overvaluing of linear and constant progress and transformation. I think white liberals see activism against the very force that opressed people as the epitome and endpoint of this transformation. They love these types of stories and to tokenize these people. But would Elaine Bartlett's story have sold as many copies if she had chosen not share her story at rallies and speak at events? So many people experience similar things but they dont have the opportunities to get involved in activism work, thus their narratives go unnoticed and are not given nearly as much value.

Furthermore, from Gonnerman's depiction, I noticed that Elaine recieved little support from her activism allies unless it was directly related to their cause. The activists and organizers that followed her case and brought her on stage at events never used their privilege or connections to help her with finding a job or housing for example. Maybe she intentionally wanted to keep these parts of her life separate, but I just felt like she was often being used in activist spaces for her story, as much as those opportunities may have benifitted her as well.