Keep Marching

The fourth common element of religion is ritual.  The important tenets of religion are taught and reinforced through ceremonies and traditional activities.

The religion of activism, as it were, is taught and made real through protests and marches, phone calls and letters, rallies, voting, and philanthropy work.  There are, unarguably, a set of activities which become the practice of activism.  Anyone who devotes themselves to the fight for a cause goes into it with an idea of what needs to be done.

Most of us don’t often think of these things as ritual or ceremony in the same way we think of religious observances, but in recent months the frequency and size of protests and marches I’ve attended has increased to the point that attending a protest is akin to going to church.  People talk about what we’re there for, what’s important, what the message is that we’re putting out into the world.  We hold up signs and chant and march.  It’s repeated often enough to be a common ritual.

It’s both symbolic and active, a gathering which makes the idea of a movement tangible and real.

And each group, each person, each community has their own individual ways of observing the rituals of activism.  The particular concerns and identities and cultures of a community show up in their ritual variants, just as different communities within a larger religious community have their own unique traditions.

Not only do these ceremonies and traditions and rituals bind a community together in common ideas, they are visible expressions of the things which are important to the group.  They are important both internally and externally, and they are events which serve to focus the energies and efforts of a group towards a single objective.  Much like ancient groups had hunts and feasts and communal fires which served to preserve group cohesion, rallies and meetings and marches serve to bind a group together and keep their focus on group goals.

 

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Engage the Masses

The second element of a religion is that there is a community of adherents, a collective belief and practice.  Activism is like that, too, in that there is a coalition of people and organizations for just about any particular concern of focus a person could have.  And each time events draw people together to fight against something or fight for something, there emerges a community with its own name and agenda.

In fact, I think that’s one of the best things about times like this when we’re compelled to stand up for humanity as a matter of great urgency:  we come together.  We connect with each other over a desire to do good, to make the world better.  Unlike most religions, activism comes with the sense that solitary practice has little impact.  It’s not about the individual, it’s about the collective.  A necessary part of activism is to join your efforts with the efforts of a large number of others, because that’s the point at which things actually begin to happen.

This gives activists the reassurance that the small amount of change or effort we can produce on our own is backed by the larger collective, that our struggle is not solitary and that we are not alone.  In addition, there’s the added element of knowing that one’s efforts are needed by other activists, that what we are able to do is valued by those who are striving towards the same goals.  Unlike many traditional religions, activism tends to draw people into group participation and collective bonding rather than pushing them into increasingly solitary prayer and devotion.  There is no benefit to keeping ideas and knowledge to oneself in activism.  Any effort is amplified by participation, and there are no rewards for attempting to solve problems alone.