My first activist step
When I used to think about what a first activist step looked like, what came to mind were acts like attending a protest, signing a petition, or writing to a Member of Parliament. So, when I finally did take my own first step, I didn’t even realize I’d done it. It didn’t feel like a step towards activism. In my mind, I was simply fulfilling my own self-interest by volunteering to film an interview for a research project.
You see, at the time I took this step, I was working towards opening a video production business. I was eager to gain more experience shooting interviews, so when I was asked to help out with a research project capturing the stories of anti-violence activists, I said yes. I didn’t really know anything at all about violence against women. I mean, sure, I considered myself a feminist but choosing to volunteer for an interview recording wasn’t really motivated by any sense of justice or moral conviction. I just said yes because I felt I would get some good practice and possibly even a portfolio piece toward building my business.
The day of the interview, I was really nervous. I’m always nervous before shooting anything but I was especially nervous this time because this was the only opportunity to capture this interviewee’s story before she flew back home. As I drove to the hotel where she was staying, my mind raced with all the ways I might screw up the interview. I arrived at the hotel early, parked, and lugged my gear into the hotel lobby where I waited until exactly the set meeting time. I called the interviewee, and with zero fanfare, she directed me to her room. She was pleasant when I arrived, but as a busy woman with only a few days in town, she excused herself to focus on work while I set up. She didn’t actually become animated until the project lead—Leighann—arrived. As fellow long-time activists and collaborators, they immediately set to chatting while I nervously arranged and re-arranged furniture and equipment in the background.
Eventually, I said I was ready to go, so we all settled in and the interview began. Leighann (who I hadn’t met until this interview) asked various questions about the interviewee’s journey as an anti-violence activist. The interviewee was well spoken, an old hat at interviews, and because she was speaking with a friend, her responses were very personal and real. I found myself inspired by her conviction to end violence against women, and I deeply respected the struggles and growing pains she’d experienced while working towards this goal.
I wish I could say that her interview converted me to the cause. It didn’t. But an offhand comment by Leighann about wishing she could turn all these interviews into a documentary, did. I just didn’t know it yet.
That afternoon, I packed up my gear, went home, and copied the interview footage to my computer. While it transferred, I thought about what Leighann had said about a documentary. I didn’t really know anything about making a documentary, but I felt this would be a great opportunity for me to cut my teeth on one. So, I emailed Leighann and offered to collaborate. Again, my motivation was self-interested, but it was yet another step, like my choice to volunteer in the first place, that led me to becoming the budding anti-violence activist I am today.
Despite how it might seem, my steps in anti-violence activism haven’t been big ones. I didn’t suddenly join the frontlines of the Ottawa Women’s March or write imploring letters to my MP. Of course, deciding to jump immediately into production for a feature documentary on a topic about which I knew nothing was probably a giant step and not something I’d necessarily recommend to folks starting out. But mostly my steps towards ending violence against women have been small—like reading books on violence against women from my local library, reflecting on what being a feminist means (check out bell hooks’ book Feminism is for Everybody to inspire some really down-to-earth reflection), talking to friends and family about what I’ve learned, and being an ear for women who, upon learning of my work on the smallest steps, felt safe enough to share their own experiences of violence with me.
What I’ve learned through creating the smallest steps (and what inspired the title of this film) is that everyone’s activism journey began with a single step, a single time where they said, yes, I will attend this event, read this book, volunteer for this organization…
Not all first steps are inspired by a deep-seated commitment to ending violence against women, nor do they necessarily lead to devoting one’s career to the cause. However, for everyone who has the courage to take that first step, it always leads to more. And though they may be small, or spaced out between weeks, months, or even years, they always come with the potential of making the world a better place for all.