Activist Malpractice

Delores Broten

Image: Benjamin Franklin, via Wikipedia (Public Domain)

Most of us have experienced it, or indulged in it. Some of it is inexperience, or enthusiasm gone awry. Some is willful blindness, ego, or inability to understand the long game; some just plain cynical exploitation.

As an activist or communicator in the social and environmental justice field, the short term goal might be a living wage for all, or to stop the Site C dam. The long term goal must be to build an inclusive, long-haul movement for system change. That requires personal involvement and growth from all participants.

Activist malpractice turns participation into consumerism and people into a bunch of factors on a spreadsheet – and then treats them like cannon fodder or a cash machine.


  • Endless emails stating that only “your $5” will save the world

  • Petitions on issues that have no hope in hell of effecting change, but do harvest contact information for marketing

  • Hijacking a carefully crafted coalition message with your own agenda

  • Rejecting coalition work in favour of your own organization’s power

  • Leading people into conflicts with power, where their future and career is at stake, without their informed consent

  • Selling out the efforts of thousands of people by cutting private deals

  • Meetings with a predetermined outcome and a hidden agenda

  • Speaking for others, or allowing it to appear that you do, without consultation or permission

All these unpleasant occurrences and many more can be, and usually are, indicators of activist malpractice.

We invite you to acknowledge the problem, and name it when you see it. When you catch yourself indulging in it, well… just stop!

Delores Broten is the founder and editor of the Watershed Sentinel

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