image credit Virgie Tovar
I have never understood why “preaching to the choir” was considered a disparaged practice. I mean, as someone who grew up in the church I can personally attest that the choir portion is the best part of the service. The choir wears amazing outfits. The choir gets people going. The choir has all the best gossip. The choir works real damn hard. The choir is the most artistically talented and outgoing part of the congregation. The choir has a gift to share with others. This gift needs to be nurtured by somebody. I love spending most of my time engaging with politically like-minded people — and I think preaching to the choir serves a greater social justice purpose.
I’m a fat activist who wants to end fatphobia and help fat people thrive.
To some people, talking about this message with the already-converted (aka, woke fat babes) can seem like an impractical usage of a finite resource — time. Further some people argue that speaking primarily to people with shared political views creates an echo chamber where meaningful disagreement will not take place. Though I think it’s important to think critically about any method of political education, I’d like to make a case in defense of preaching to the choir. It’s overly simplistic to only see people through the binary of “believer” vs. “non-believer.” For some people, doing work around fat liberation is a lifelong journey, not just a moment of conversion. I want to talk about how it is mutually nourishing, how it pushes us past the 101 level of understanding important issues, and also how it highlights my talents as an activist.
Let’s start with nourishment. It takes a lot of ongoing effort, labor, and love to fight for justice and to question the culture. People in the “choir” opt out of fitting in or playing nice. We dedicate a lot of time to being conscientious citizens. We need ongoing attention, love and an increasingly nuanced education that deepens our own healing and understanding. Some of my greatest moments as a human have been in rooms full of people who have already committed their lives to justice. Because we’re already on the same page, we can speak freely without concern about the dissenting voices that we know are all around us most of the time. That time is sacred. That time makes me feel like my worldview is being recognized and corroborated. I don’t know what the hell I would do without those moments. This kind of nourishment is an in-group benefit, but the people in the choir tend to help the collective by pushing bigger conversations forward — past the 101 level.
It is the choir who become the experts — and every movement needs those.
They are committed to honing the craft. They become the envisioners of the future and what is possible for their cause. Their vision ripples outward. Equipping them with a deep wellspring of knowledge and attention amplifies that ripple. Fat liberation is not a simple concept. It has many dimensions, and involves history and anthropology and science. Fat liberation is connected to all human struggles for freedom. Yes, we all need to get on the same page about the basics — like there’s nothing wrong with being fat - but there’s a self-selecting group of people who are drawn to investing more deeply in understanding the nuanced parts of the work. We need these experts, these deep investors. The more emboldened and loved they feel the more they have the capacity to keep pushing the conversation forward on a national or global scale.
Finally, each activist or educator has different talents. Being a bridge is not one of my stronger ones. I am naturally drawn to being disruptive and campy. I have strong opinions and make strange fashion choices. I love tarot. I love bizarre performance art. I would rather do a corndog tour across America to show my blatant disregard for health rhetoric than write a book about the limitations of “obesity” frameworks. I need to be able to use phrases like “white supremacy” and “heteropatriarchy” in order to accurately tell a story about what is happening in this culture. I’ve discovered that these kinds of things are — strangely enough — polarizing. I feel a small spiritual death whenever I’m expected to talk to a roomful of people who expect me to explain why I - and people like me - are fully human and worthy of respect. I have no desire to debate with someone who doesn’t believe that every person on the planet deserves dignity and love. I am not the person for the centrist - let alone the conversative - and it would not be genuine or useful to pretend that I can connect well to someone who largely sees nothing wrong with the dominant paradigm.
I’m always impressed by people who approach the same work I’m doing with a radically different perspective.
Honestly, we need all kinds of talents in order to make any political work successful. We need bridge people to get more of us in the room, and we need people who love talking to the people who are already in the room. We need introverts and extroverts. We need writers, thinkers, speakers, artists, intellectuals, journalists, lawyers, graphic designers, people who love social media, people who hate social media, people who are really good at making zines or are super good with Excel. I don’t believe in doing activism that doesn’t feel genuine. I don’t believe in pedestalizing activism that brings us face-to-face with virulent naysayers. I believe there is room for multiple strategies, and if you’re great at something don’t divert that energy to something that feels disingenuous.
Whenever people ask me what they can do to help the cause of fat activism, I tell them to start with what they love doing and what they’re good at doing and put those things into the service of a better world. When we lean into the activism we love, we thrive. When we lean into the work we love, we create a sustainable, life-long relationship to activism. We burn out less quickly and less easily. For instance, I love to write; I love social media; I love thinking critically, and above else, I love a deep and real choir-variety convo.