What is the role of anger in activism? This has been a topic of interest to me since the beginning of my work to improve how parents help their loved ones recover from eating disorders.
The debate in the Chronic Fatigue world is cautionary and relevant. I hope every activist in the ED world listens to this piece and sees the parallels I see.
I was and remain angry that families are marginalized, pathologized, patronized, and inappropriately scrutinized on the basis of a loved one's treatable mental illness. Who wouldn't be when I see lives lost, families destroyed, and friendships decimated by misguided treatment, inadequate public awareness, and absurd healthcare policy? Sure, I'm angry! These are preventable, needless, tragic errors and they are going on every day all over the world. I'm not angry because I want vindication or for my own satisfaction: I'm angry because this hurts the very patients we all care about.
I'm not just angry that people are ill, I'm angry that parents are hampered and even actively discouraged from the information and assistance that would prevent unnecessary pain and distress and chronic illness and death. If you're NOT angry about this I'm a little angry at you.
My approach to the anger is activism. Instead of burning my guts in impotent anger I refuse to take it personally any more. Instead of burning my bridges in corrosive rage I just keep showing up: not allowing the conversation about eating disorders to exclude our voices. I believe in being the unpleasant smell at a nice party, frankly. It is all right to make people feel uncomfortable. Growing up in an environment of social activism I'm used to being the one who doesn't laugh at an inside joke, doesn't salute the flag, doesn't let a bully pass, doesn't just ignore the slur. I'm used to being the one to say the Emperor's wardrobe is lacking, to demand an uninvited place at the table, to be going "too fast," being "too radical."
The defense is, too often, "why are you so angry?" As if anger was a bad thing. It isn't.
Anger turned to aggression is. Anger that renders us deaf to anything but our own words is. Anger that locks me into an extreme position is a win for the opposite position. Anger that has no outlet or is continually sneered at is likely to turn to simple bitterness. Anger that exhausts instead of motivates is all too common. Another kind of anger can isolate an activist onto an embattled island. Anger that just likes being angry, well, it doesn't help the cause. Not all kinds of productive anger can get along. And not all kinds of angers NEED to get along - there's a place for a range of us angry activists.
I began my work, and this post, with a goal: to help families. I was motivated by anger, and I am still. I work continually to keep my anger from becoming a problem of its own, but the cure to my anger is change. If I didn't believe what we're all doing is bringing change, now and into the future, there's no use. I still believe in change.