Interesting article from High Plains Reader

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Activists and Integrity

By Dena Marie Wyum
Contributing Writer

Activism is tied to being a person of integrity. In this sense I am referring to integrity as being consistent and authentic; living out one’s values. I see integrity and activism as intrinsically connected and my hope is to create an understanding of activism as an integral part of being a person of integrity.

My second year as a college student, I stumbled into my first experience of activism which entailed writing a letter to the editor of The Fargo Forum. The Forum had reported that parents at a local high-school wanted to ban the book “A Time to Kill,” by John Grisham. I was incensed by the article because the parent’s main argument for proposing a ban was that the book included a graphic depiction of a rape which they considered unsuitable for high-school students. I sat down immediately and penned my first letter to the editor in defense of the book and in support of the school board members who opposed the ban.

While I have written many more letters over the years, I have always had a strong connection to that first letter because it sparked knowledge for me that I had the power to voice my values. My values in this case included a value that students should have access to a variety of books and be allowed space to make their own critical reflections, and a value that rape is a reality for many women and that denying that reality by attempting to shelter children does nothing to address the actual issue and impact of rape. I had always held these values but had never felt so called to support them in a public way. Reflections on that letter tell me that I immediately sat down to write that letter because I could not in good conscious remain silent.

I share my own “come to activism” moment with students and encourage them to explore figures in women’s history and how their actions were tied to integrity. I have them read about Frances Willard and her leadership that brought change to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) during the 1800s. Historically the temperance movement had focused solely on the elimination of alcohol, often led by women who had been victims of abuse and neglect due to husbands’ alcohol use. Willard’s values called her to expand the focus of the Union to include encouraging women to work for the vote. The vote equaled the ability to support anti-alcohol legislation and was Willard’s non-violent solution to the issue of alcohol abuse. Prior to her presidency of the WCTU, Willard had a successful career in education and most recently had been the president of Evanston College for Ladies in Illinois. She chose to leave her secure, likely well-paid, position to follow her values, a choice she made as a woman of integrity.

Another woman my students study is Ida B. Wells, who is known for being an anti-lynching crusader. Like Willard, Wells started out as an educator in a formal setting and eventually moved on to more prominent activist work by starting her own paper, “Free Speech”. She used “Free Speech” as her platform for espousing the importance of ending lynching. Even after the offices of “Free Speech” were destroyed by a white mob, she relocated and continued publishing. Wells own words are the best explanation of her transition from teaching to journalism: “I felt one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or rat in a trap.” Integrity called her to use her skills as a writer to crusade against lynching.

These stories and other similar stories of women activists are often lost or ignored in our male-dominated version of history. Yet these stories can give us insight into how women of the past have integrated activism and integrity. These activists often sacrificed much for the purpose of forwarding their social justice causes.

Students often initially struggle with listing their values at the beginning of the semester. Usually by the end of the course they have expanded their list after learning about different women’s studies issues and learning about figures from women’s history. Through my course students have the opportunity to start living activist lives, which anyone can do with a few steps:
List your values. Ask yourself: What is important to me? Determine what you can do to be an activist. Ask yourself: What resources and skills do I have to further the values that I believe in? Don’t let “It won’t make a difference” take over.

We often feel called to act but due to time constraints, lack of energy, and sometimes even a lack of hope, we don’t. It is easy to wonder if the 20 minutes spent writing a letter of support, the $20 sent to an organization, or going to a rally for a candidate, is really going to make a difference. Yet, “Is it going to make a difference?” isn’t the right question.

Instead, ask yourself: If I don’t act, am I being true to my values and myself?

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