As the dust and glitter settle on the excitement of a new year, we are faced with the reality that most of our situations are the same. Australia is on fire, Flint in Michigan still has lead in their tap water, President Trump threatened to bomb cultural sites in Iran- the list goes on.
It seems that no matter what day it is or where in the world you land, there is always something to panic about. Activism fatigue is inevitable if we are constantly trying to care about everything all the time. While apathy is not the answer, focus might be.
We need to allow ourselves to choose a few issues we are passionate about, and truly work on them. Setting boundaries around news media consumption is helpful in this. Even if you don’t follow news outlets on social media, setting up our own rules around these sites can be helpful. Reading comments from family members that we know we don’t agree with won’t solve world hunger, but it will drain energy from you that is needed to do valuable social justice work in other areas.
When we are calmer, our message and work is more accessible. If we are constantly frustrated and overwhelmed, it will come through in our activism whether we notice it or not. Per Espen Stoknes, a psychologist and economist, told Vox that rhetoric which causes fear or guilt “we know from psychology is not conducive to engagement. It does quite the opposite. It makes people passive.” Fear or guilt will cause a person to “withdraw from the issue and try to think of something else that makes them feel better.”
In 2020, we need to ignore the internet trolls and ignore sensationalized headlines. When we engage with news media we trust, we need to have a self-care routine ready to be able to process everything. The world is not going to stop burning, but we can figure out how to deal with it so we can fight the fire.
Engaging with other activists and creating community is a great way to fight the good fight while also creating a support system when the going gets tough. History shows us that there will always be another fight, another issue, and another hurdle to jump. History also shows us that we cannot do it alone.
Changing our mindset from “here’s another issue” to “here’s another challenge” might help us feel like there is something we can do to change our circumstances. We often forget how much power we have as a collective. If we sign petitions, push legislation forward, show up to rallies, vote, etc. then we will make change. We cannot let ourselves burn out when we have the power to do so many great things.
When we choose a few issues to be passionate about, we can trust that other activists will tell us what we need to do for them, and vice versa. Perhaps they’ll ask you to sign a petition to push forward a policy. That takes very little emotional energy and can make a great difference. If we are asked to join a rally that we simply do not have the energy for, sharing the call to action and spreading the word is still helpful.
We can still be helpful while not compromising our health. By understanding our own personal boundaries, we’ll understand where we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and when we need to tap out.
2020 isn’t going to be a sprinting race; it’s going to be a marathon, but either way, we are on the track whether we like it or not. One we need to be prepared for is that we don’t overload our brains and souls to the point where we break. If we feel guilty about our privileges or fearful about our lack of privilege, it is natural for us to want to hide away from the harsh truths of today.
It is unlikely that these emotions will stop coming up within us in 2020, but we can learn to identify them as normal reactions to our circumstances and figure out how to overcome them. If you feel guilty, engage more with your chosen causes. If you feel afraid, engage with your community in ways that will create a sense of solidarity.
Writing about your experiences with social justice (and submitting them to Streetvibes for possible publication) can be both cathartic and a form of activism. Gathering with your community and sharing concerns about policy or celebrating victories is a healthy way to still engage in your causes while taking a moment to appreciate the work you do and the work of those around you.
It isn’t about being perfect. It isn’t possible to be calm at all times, but it is possible to progressively make changes so that we can be healthier people at a time where it feels like there’s too much going on. Like the saying goes: put your oxygen mask on before assisting others with theirs.