The Great Normalization of Activism

Kelsey Breseman
4 min readJan 11, 2023

We should have shows about activists. Or, shows where some of the characters actually engage in politics, and it’s not a quirk, or a phase, or otherwise made ridiculous. I think civic engagement deserves a sitcom character who genuinely cares about the world or society they live in, and does something about it.

I know that politics seems gross, or scary, to lots of people. It brings to mind seedy politicians, backroom deals, and above all, a world that is fully out of our control. It’s easy to call to mind TV images of protestors as bit-part angry people. Or on the other hand, there’s maybe your one activist friend, to whom you occasionally, say, “oh, you’re so good.” There’s this sense of activism as massively idealistic, as out of touch and out of reach. It’s imagined as this endless timesuck, a sort of godless religion where the whole thing is either indulgences or charity.

But most people don’t have time for that. Why engage on something that you believe at the outset to be miserable, ridiculous, and arduous, that you believe will come to no result?

Activism takes time, certainly. But it is the problem of society that we have constructed a system where only a very few have the privilege of making social change. Those people are: folks who can do this for money (or with money), and folks who have enough spare time on their hands to do the work anyway. (And if you had that, why would this be where you would spend it?) So really, it ends up, very often, as the wealthy versus the desparate.

I think, when I knock on doors, or hang posters, or otherwise walk a neighborhood in a political way, people assume I must be paid, because they cannot imagine choosing to do this work for free.

The best lies have seeds of truth, and the picture I’ve painted above is such a sprout. What does it really look like, to do movement work? What is the day-to-day of grassroots political change? Most people have no idea.

I describe my activism work as my “other, other thing,” that is, the thing I do after my full-time job and squeezed around my grad school courses. I know this sounds like too much, but most people in activism have to do it as their other, other. Some people have young or old humans to take care of, or health issues to manage, or incredibly long commutes, or any of a thousand other priorities.

This is the social problem, I think. There is something here about work as civic…