Why the Activist Community of Kansas City Must Be Dismantled...and Replaced with Radical Democracy, Part 3

Cecil E. Wattree, LCSW, LSCSW - Guest Columnist

File photo of 2021 protests in Kansas City, Missouri.

Photo by Brynn Fitzsimmons

Transference, Countertransference and the Agentic State

9/14/2021 - Kansas City, Missouri

By Guest Columnist Cecil E. Wattree, LCSW, LSCSW

Note: This post is part of a series reflecting on the current activist and organizing work happening in Kansas City. The goal of these posts is to provide constructive feedback and frameworks for more effective organizing and activist work. You can read part one here and part two here.

In this post, I want to address how transference and countertransference between the advocate and the oppressed can happen without the advocate (activist, or organizer) being aware, and how not noticing or addressing these issues can ultimately cause damage to movement work and to those it claims to help.


Transference refers to redirection of the person's feelings for a significant person to the advocate ... Countertransference is defined as redirection of an advocate's feelings toward a person, or more generally, as an advocate's emotional entanglement with a person.

Those in the helping profession constantly are reminded to check themselves to ensure that this is not occurring. This affects their ability to advocate or support others as they compromise their action by enabling or pushing their own personal unresolved experiences on those who are supposed to be receiving help from.

The Agentic State of Allies and the Co-Conspirators.

What is the Agentic State?

An agentic state is a state of mind in which a person will allow other people to direct their behaviors and pass responsibility for the consequences of the behaviors to the person telling them what to do.

This might look like:

  • Nazis who say, " I was just following orders"

  • Systemic Operators/ oppressors who say, "I was just doing my job" or "Just following protocol".

When advocates follow blindly and accept no responsibility for their actions, they are actively perpetuating the system you wish to address.

This appears to be worse with allies with lack of insight as their privilege should be used to assist with advocacy, when it actually prevents it. Rather, they operate with the same lack of autonomy and inability to hold other advocates accountable for the harm they caused. This also refers to those who confront others in their inability to change or repair harm, when they are unwilling to face the harm which they have caused as well.

“The essence in obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view himself as an instrument for carrying out another person's wishes and he therefore no longer regards himself as responsible for his actions.”

― Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority

This is the Agentic State.