In addition to being a spendthrift, I’m also a bit of an idealist. I don’t mean that I’m really good at upholding any ideals; I’m just in my head a lot. This makes it kind of hard to get things done, when I spend so much of my time thinking about possible implications and outcomes of my actions. How can people move beyond cloudy idealism to muddy activism? I think a part of it has to do with growing the ovaries to commit to an identity.
And by “identify” I mean, if you care about the environment, call yourself an environmentalist! This is something I’m not always good at, as I have a residual fear of “isms” instilled into me by an old history professor. Beyond this, I don’t really like the implication that individuals can share a discrete, absolute categorization of moral and political beliefs. But at the same time, isms can give strength and cohesion to an idea, and make people feel like they’re a part of something. So it’s not all bad, right?
One “ism” I subscribe to readily is feminism. This is because I feel confident that I know enough about the theory and practice of feminism, and I believe whole-heartedly in equality and respect for people of all genders. I guess the waters are just a bit murkier when it comes to environmentalism. I never studied environmentalism in school, and I have a very limited understanding of Earth sciences. And on top of that? I never feel like I’m quite “environmentalist” enough.
A relevant tidbit I learned is that people who identify as feminists, for whatever reason, tend to be more active and outspoken about the issues affecting women than those who share their beliefs but choose not to identify. These people are commonly referred to as the “I’m not a feminist, but…” group. While I’m sure there are many reasons why people don’t identify with feminism (and environmentalism) it seems counterproductive for people to be alienated from a movement because they’re not “ist” enough.
The way I see it, there are lots of benefits to recruiting naive newbs into any social movement. Making it more “mainstream” might get some lifestyle activists pissed because they’re no longer as big of a thorn in the establishment’s tender buttock. But I think anyone with a deep commitment to the cause itself, not to just having a cause for its own sake, would welcome newcomers with a warm embrace.
So. If you’re an idealist like me, do yourself (and mother Gaia) a favour, and claim the identity of an environmentalist! Reject “I’m not an environmentalist, but… I care about the environment” in favour of “I AM an environmentalist, but… I’m still learning.”