A Conversation on Activism with Helen Boyd Kramer

Many students are well aware of the importance of community activism outside of campus. Engaging in volunteerism and taking a stance on issues in the community and within society is essential towards creating change. Lawrentians are very involved with activism fighting against injustices on campus, and this spirit should be extended and brought to the larger Appleton area. Professor of Gender Studies Helen Boyd Kramer shared her views on the importance of community activism and its ability to inspire change on a large scale.

Kramer believes she has been inspired to pursue opportunities in activism throughout her life, as she has always felt passionate about volunteerism and political engagement within her community. She stated, “I can’t think of a time when [activism] wasn’t something I did, but it was something I had to figure out how to integrate into my life.” In pursuit of this desire, she found she could combine her love of reading and writing with this passion for political engagement.

This combination resulted in the activism she pursues today, which involves advocating for others through her writing and through educational outreach. She has been active in providing information to organizations about social issues regarding the transgender community. She also works to give training sessions and educational talks at local organizations, like Harbor House. “A lot of my activism is outreach and educational because I have information people need about gender, sexuality and so on,” stated Kramer.

In her experience, Kramer has encountered negativity towards the influences of community activism. She stressed the importance of recognizing that sometimes we don’t realize how the talents, abilities and resources that we have can be used for good until we actually use them. She stated, “I think many folks who are negative about activism only are so because they don’t need it—either they already have a lot of privilege and can’t see what’s wrong for others, or they think there are only certain ways to effect change.”

Because of her educational outreach and advocacy toward serving the community, some have called her an activist. However, she prefers to look at herself differently. She describes herself as first and foremost an educator and a public citizen. It is her understanding that a public citizen needs to be asking questions and challenging what’s unfair. A public citizen needs to be looking out for people with limited resources and less access to power. She stated, “I think most of us who do social justice work become aware that we can change things and that we have to.”

In a society where structural oppression limits the lives of so many, it is always important to be a public citizen. Engaging with the community around us can impact our lives and the lives of others, showing that good can be done on many levels. The goal of this community activism is to connect with neighbors of different backgrounds and to help them; as they too are fellow public citizens.

“I think just discovering your sense of decency requires you to do more than you ever thought you could,” Kramer concluded.