Activism is a messy thing at the best of times. Often people from a range of political beliefs and backgrounds believe that something is worth taking a stand for, and the group that gathers, protests, agitates or advocates for that thing can be made up of people who may vehemently disagree on many things, aside from the issue that has brought them together. For me, this aspect of social change is fascinating, and has made me think long and hard about the value of pragmatism, as well as it’s negative aspects.
Clinic Defence – a gathering of pro-choice activists on the fourth Sunday of each month, outside the East Melbourne Fertility Clinic – is organised by Radical Women, a radical socialist women’s organisation. People (often myself included) gather to defend the space directly outside the clinic – to ensure that the fundamentalist Christians who pray for the ‘dead babies’ have to stand on the opposite side of the road. And I often agree with the politics of Radical Women, in that I am concerned about many of the same issues as they are. But from what I know of their organisation, I disagree often with the how – how to work to achieve the change they believe in. This isn’t surprising of course, because I don’t identify as a socialist. But what continues to surprise me is that many of the social issues I am concerned about, socialists are often working to achieve the same ends, but through very different means.
All of this has led me to really consider the idea of pragmatism, and whether this is the only (?) uniting factor among people working for social change. There are so often so many serious conflicts of political outlook and ideology, but people continue to unite in spite of these differences to work for the change they believe in. The Equal Love rallies are a classic example – there is pretty much every political persuasion represented from socialism through to absolutist libertarians, who for almost completely opposite reasons, believe in exactly the same change to the system. I have, for the last couple of years, been searching for a framework, and ideology that could bring people from disparate political beliefs together to work for social change without the conflicts which can occur. Maybe it’s human rights (but whose rights?)? Maybe it’s sustainable development (but development for who?)? Freedom (to do/have what?)? But the same ideological conflicts occur because there are always definitional issues, as well as the issue of how the ends should be worked towards, what society should look like when the issue has been resolved. Pragmatism isn’t perfect either, but for now it seems to be the only thing we have that even functions to unify the fragmented politics of social change activists across the globe.