Anger is lousy activism

There’s been a recent spate of diaries over at Daily Kos regarding anger.  Most of them are justifications for their actions and behavior.  The gist of it is that they “have a right to be angry’ and that anger is their motivation to “fight for justice.”  The problem?  They’re addicted to their anger.  It consumes them, and renders them ineffective as activists.   They’ve become the equivalent of a toddler throwing a tantrum in a public place.  Whatever caused the tantrum ends up being irrelevant, as people are more annoyed at the toddler than the cause.

Many years ago, I had someone call me about a grant they were a part of, that they’d received through a foundation.   As it happened, I was a member of that foundation, and had developed some influence with people in it.  The grant had been for two years, but they’d just gotten notice that the second year had been canceled.   They asked if I could help with getting the second year restored.  I looked at the grant, thought it was a tremendous project, and made a few calls.  I found out that the Chair of the grant committee had developed a grudge against the person who’d called me, and had exerted their influence to get the grant pulled.  The Grant Committee consisted of 5 people, with the Chair being a member of the Board of Directors.   I went through the rules, and found a few things.  The first was that a reconsideration could be requested,  which had to go to through the committee.  If the grant committee voted 3-2 against it, it could then be brought for reconsideration and vote before the Board of Directors.

That gave me my strategy.  I called the person who’d requested my help, and told them to request a reconsideration of the grant decision.  Then I got busy on the phone.   I didn’t bother with the chair, since I already knew how they felt.  I found that there was one definite positive vote,  another definite negative vote, and two fence-sitters.  One I persuaded to switch to positive, the other I couldn’t – my feeling was they’d probably vote “no.”  I was also working the phones to members of  the board.  Just before the committee vote, I had a strong whip count.  It was going to lose in committee, but by a 3-2 margin.  I had a definite majority of yes votes from the  board.  So even though the first round would be a loss, it would win on the second round – or so I thought.  I filled in the person who had called me on where things stood, and the strategy.  Then, after the committee vote, it happened.  They blew a gasket about it on an e-mail list, and their rant went all over.   The board went almost unanimously against it.    It was dead.  I was livid.  Not  because of the vote, but because the person I’d been trying to help did precisely the wrong thing at the wrong time.

I’m getting flashbacks to this as I watch various “advocates” work the blogs.    There’s a time and a place for outrage.  Turning it into effective political action requires being able to direct that to when and where it’s most needed.  It’s a motivation to start, but it’s a lousy tactic for effective action.  After the initial surge, you need to be able to “turn down the heat.”    Do it wrong and you end up losing everything.  Do it right, and you get much more of what you want.  Unfortunately, they’re doing it wrong.  I’ve watched as continually they stoke the outrage with calls for action, at precisely the wrong time.   Either it’s because something hasn’t been started, or it’s too late.  Sometimes the action they’re calling for is the wrong one.  They lash out and attack not only their opponents, but their potential allies, and sometimes their friends.

Just what did all that “righteous anger” that’s been erupting out of the political blogs really accomplish?  Did it force members of Congress to shift their positions?  Did it cause better legislation to emerge?  Did it lead to the solving of the issue that caused the anger?   Given the current continuing state of rage evinced by many of them, the answer is no, it didn’t.  The end result is that they’ve managed to do a wonderful job of crippling progress on many issues.  One might think they worked for the opposition.

Anger is destructive.  Getting angry about something may make you decide to take action, but it should not rule the actions you take.   Angry people  antagonize other people, and make them stop listening.   Angry means you’re going to make mistakes, that you’re going to take actions that are counter-productive to what you wish to achieve.   You may enjoy being angry all the time, but  all you’re doing is hurting yourself and not stopping what made you angry in the first place.    After a while all you’ll have is your anger, because no one is going to be listening to you.

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