Working towards peace and sustainability

Fatigue Settling In? Discover/Co-Create Sustainable Activism

It’s been two months now—since the inauguration, that is—but really it’s been nearly two years—since the June 2015 candidacy announcement—that Donald J. Trump has occupied a huge amount of our attention.

Many of us have been deeply distressed throughout this entire period over the perils of our country adopting the profoundly misguided agenda he ran on. Equally disturbing was the prospect of ensconcing in positions of significant power people who so thoroughly embrace the interests of the top 1 percent, and have no qualms walking all over the rest of us and the only livable planet we have, to enrich themselves.

When we woke up on November 9, it was to the notion that we would need to ramp up “resistance” and do all we could to challenge the tremendously misguided directions Trump and Company would be aiming to take this country. The message sank in, for some of us immediately, for others, over a matter of weeks.

Ultimately, concern was so great that all across the nation millions join the Women’s March or other, similar demonstrations. Even in CoMo, where demonstrations are considered large if 100 people turn out, more than 3,600 marched in a Jan. 21 Solidarity March, a sister march to the DC Women’s March, co-sponsored by Peaceworks and 23 other groups.

A small portion of the crowd gathered at Courthouse Square for the Solidarity March on Jan. 21, 2017.

Over the next few weeks numerous additional demonstrations, town hall meetings and other gatherings drew from dozens to hundreds of participants. Many were engaged in activism for the first time ever. Others, who’d put their activism on the shelf years ago, returned to the picket lines. And many, who were currently engaged, elected to redouble their efforts in this critical period. All this is truly heartening.

Of course, while we all recognize the imperative of not allowing Trump’s presidency to be normalized, we can only operate in crisis mode for a limited period of time. While each person’s ability to devote their time and talents to activism varies significantly, most of us can push the boundaries of what’s workable for a while, but ultimately, if we’re to stay active, we need to find a level of engagement that can work on an ongoing basis; in two words, “sustainable activism.”

Given the urgency of many of the issues we face today, we in no way wish to discourage folks getting as involved as you feel works for you. But it’s also important for everyone to recognize that there is no shame in not going to every demo, or every meeting. In fact, attending to one’s own personal balance is key to avoiding burnout, which, of course, leads to dropping out of the struggle entirely.

Here are a few Suggestions for Making Activism Sustainable

1)  Engage Consistently:  Doing something every day is good, even if it’s just spending 5-10 minutes making key phone calls. If you can’t do this daily, keep at it, doing what you can as many days each week as you can.

2)  Choose Your Tasks:  Spend some time evaluating what’s the best use of your activist energies. Perhaps you have a particular skill or talent you can contribute. If nothing immediately stands out, consider what you enjoy doing that can carry over into the activist realm (e.g. making phone calls, doing door-knocking, petitioning, letter-writing, doing issue research, fundraising, building websites, demonstrating, etc.). You will do more if you’re doing things you like. Of course, you can, and probably should, mix it up and do at least some of a variety of things.

3)  Choose Your Battles:  There are so many critical issues that need to be addressed that none of us can do significant work on all of them. You likely agree with many progressive issue stands, but perhaps some issue(s) really move you viscerally in ways that others don’t. Whether it’s climate change, war and peace, healthcare, economic, racial, gender or other categories of justice, reproductive rights, civil liberties, the death penalty or what have you, you will likely be more effective if you hone in on one or a handful of key concerns and concentrate your efforts, while remaining supportive of other efforts. It is also really important to take the time to become knowledgeable about the primary issues you decide to focus on.

Of course, aside from considering what you’re most passionate about, it’s also important to consider what is timely. For example, when Trump instituted the Muslim Travel Ban, Peaceworks dropped some other work to focus attention there. And if the bombs and bullets start flying next week in some unexpected hotspot, we may need to refocus there.

4)  Choose Your Organizations:  While a few of us operate best as lone-wolf  activists, most of us find synergy comes through working with a group, and there are many wonderful progressive groups that would love to have your active participation. Some things you might consider in picking which groups to work with include: Are the issues they’re focused on among the ones that I’m most drawn to? Is the group positive, supportive and welcoming? Are the tactics and strategies they embrace ones I feel comfortable with? Does it seem like I can contribute significantly to their efforts?

5)  Get to Know Your Fellow Activists—Build Community: The work of social change is, in some real ways, also a process of creating structures that align our means with our ends. By this we mean that within our organizations we build structures that reflect the sort of world we seek to co-create; one that involves a paradigm shift. Hopefully we build bonds of friendship and mutual support as we create organizational structures that are cooperative, rather than competitive, inclusive and inviting of participation and embracing of diversity.

6)  Recognize that You Are Not Alone—Reach Out, Seek and Give Support: When we look at the crazy world we’ve inherited and we think of what we’re leaving to our collective progeny it can feel completely overwhelming. We can’t afford, however, to crawl under the nearest rock and pretend all is OK. Rather, we need to give and receive mutual support; we need to find hope in the vision, courage and persistence of our comrades in struggle. And we need to share our positive, hopeful visions of another world that is possible with others.

7)  Recognize that There is Not One Right Way:  There are many approaches to social change activism. The left has a well-deserved reputation for setting up circular firing squads; wasting more effort fighting those who should be allies over differences in tactics, strategies, etc. Our efforts will be much more effective if we focus on making our own projects as successful as we can, while appreciating and supporting those who are going about things differently.

The list above, like everything else we create, is a work in progress. As we move forward through uncharted waters we will likely learn many lessons. Your comments and feedback are most welcome.

These times are unprecedented and call for us to rise to the challenge. Many have been working to do this and we applaud all of you. Peaceworks, of course, would love to collaborate with as many of you reading this as possible. We also recognize that we are one of a number of good and worthwhile area organizations and we support your decisions to work with others as well, or instead.

We have a big tent approach and aim to collaborate with as many of those other groups as we can. There is strength in numbers. But all the various groups are ultimately made up of individuals—the people who are the backbone of our movements—that’s why you are the most essential ingredient in our resistance work, as well as our long-haul efforts to create a peaceful, just and sustainable future. And that’s why we see it as essential to make our activism sustainable.

Stay hopeful. Stay strong. Stay involved. Stay loving and kind. Know, if you are active, you are needed, appreciated and you are making a difference.