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Monday, October 06, 2008

On Being Asked to Be a Spokeperson

Today I was confronted by an issue that I hadn't encountered for several years -- since before I realized that I had belonged to a cult.

A friend I encountered asked me to help her with something important. She said there's going to be a tenants' rights protest Thursday morning, and she asked if I knew anyone who could take part in it, or could refer anyone. This probably concerns her personally, since I know she was in court with a complaint against her landlord recently.

I was made very uncomfortable by her request. I hesitated in responding, and ultimately said I don't know anyone with a special interest in housing issues.

I understand where this is coming from. It's the same issue that arose in 2002, while I was preparing to volunteer with ISM. Another friend (Jewish) asked if I could take some item from her, such as a toy, to give to a Palestinian child while I was over there. I was similarly made uncomfortable by this request, and declined. At the time I couldn't really articulate why I felt this way; I only knew that for some reason it was important that what I was doing be entirely "my own," and that fulfilling my friend's request would compromise that.

More recently I've come to understand what this was about. In the cult, an effort was made to make me entirely into a vehicle for ideas and formulations that came from others, totally eliminating my autonomy. As a result, I'm made uncomfortable when I'm asked to act as someone else's representative, even though the context is no longer cultic. This was perhaps especially true in the 2002 incident, since a major motive for my volunteering to put myself in harm's way was to strengthen my sense of self, and overcome the fear that questioning any of the convictions I then held would just be a cowardly "retreat from revolutionary positions." If anything, my sensitivity to this kind of thing is probably greater now than it was then, as I've become conscious of where it comes from.

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