Activists, are you tired?
Last month I went to the doctor and begged her to test me for mono. I was convinced my lethargy had to be due to some undiagnosed autoimmune disease that once diagnosed I could then say, “See, I have an illness, I’m not just tired!”. She told me she was convinced I didn’t have mono and didn’t need to be tested for it much to my disappointment. This month I was sure I was having an existential crisis and wondered if I should book a month long silent meditation retreat to relieve the darkness I felt in my soul. A weekend of staying in bed and mostly ignoring my phone made me realize I probably didn’t need anything so drastic. I just needed some sleep and to unplug.
Activists, are you tired? We’ve been resisting a lot since November 9th. And, everyday there is something new to resist. The news is always overwhelming — Russia hacked our elections, our current administration may have colluded with them to do so, the President doesn’t appear to know what obstruction of justice is. Bans on people traveling to America, the supposed land of opportunity for all because of their country of origin. Immigration officials separating families. Twenty-three million Americans potentially denied access to healthcare. And, the violence that rocks our communities through gun and hate crimes is enough to make anyone run for the covers and pretend the world isn’t spinning around them. This is just some of the daily news stories we are forced to digest and then plan resistance strategies to counteract.
Meanwhile, there are 526 days until the midterm elections. Over five hundred days to effectively message and strategize to regain the House of Representatives, governorships, state legislatures, and local races at city and county levels. The great uprising of resistance that the country is watching seems to mean that it’s time to make purple America a little bluer. And yet, if we are all burned out, how do we move forward?
Here’s how we don’t move forward. We snipe at each other when we should be coming together. I see many of us having little patience for another’s point of view when it doesn’t align with ours. I see us calling each other out for not being purist enough in our ideologies. Most of all, I see that we are forgetting how to listen to each other. I see myself forgetting how to listen and making snap judgments about what another person is telling me. I know it’s because I’m tired and I’m not my best self when my energy and spirit is exhausted.
Realizing that I probably did not need a month long silent meditation retreat to heal my soul, I just needed some sleep, I also realized what I was missing. I wasn’t focused on the good that has come from the work we are doing, because I was so tuned into the constant pushback of “resist”. Resist means to withstand or combat, but when we are in a constant state of reacting to negative actions, our stress sensors are always being triggered. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is a nasty enemy because it can interfere with our memory and learning, lower immune function, increase blood pressure, lead to higher cholesterol and heart disease, and on and on.
There’s a solution, though. It’s one I forgot myself, but am finding my way back toward. We are what we feed in ourselves. There’s an old Native American myth, a tribal elder tells his grandson that inside each of us, there are two wolves doing battle. The first wolf is possessed of qualities understood as negative, including envy, greed, sorrow, anger, resentment, and arrogance. The second wolf has qualities including love, joy, kindness, empathy, compassion, humility, and peace. The grandson asks his grandfather, “Which wolf will win the fight?” The grandfather responds, “Whichever one you feed.”
This idea itself is a call to action, the idea that we are what we feed in ourselves. If we nurture the graces to be found in resistance work, we are less likely to be negatively influenced by the daily barrage coming from all sides of our work. There is grace in the coming together of people who were never involved in politics or public policy before the 2016 election. There is grace in helping our neighbors feel more included in our communities. There is grace in guiding a new activist towards meaningful advocacy work. There is grace in lifting each other up when we need it. And most of all, there is grace in sharing our stories with each other, this is who we are.
This work isn’t stagnant, it’s always shifting and moving and we do have to react to what is happening around us. But, if we are solid in who we are and why we are here, that we share common values and a mission to have those values represented by those who represent us at all levels of government, if we feed ourselves the true meaning of this work, not to be right all the time, but to build a community that benefits the most of us, we will win more than we lose and we’ll hopefully be a little more rested.