Many Ways To Be An Activist


Thousands will march in streets today. Thousands will also sit quietly with a dying relative today. Is one more activist than the other?

Today, so many people will make calls. So many teachers will guide their students in empathy lessons. Lawyers will cram into court rooms and airports. Mothers will show their children what kindness looks like. Fathers will model what it is to honor and support a woman. Comedians will make people laugh, artists will offer up images of resistance and freedom... and a lot of us could use a long, luxurious massage.

Can activism be, at its core, any action driven by a socially-conscious, unshakable resolve to make way for a more peaceful and compassionate world? Even if that includes a die-hard commitment to daily well-being? Activism holds as many definitions and complex histories and co-opting as the word feminism. I want to be an activist more now than ever, just as activism itself is being re-defined. We have to decide, proclaim and write down what it means to us, and then hold up that self-made definition to the larger, cultural one. 

It’s vitally important to stay informed, and direct action works! But how vitally important is it also that we take the work of securing basic dignity for all living beings home with us, and nurture it within our inner selves? Now more than ever, we are awakening to the collective power we hold as citizens. And not a moment too soon. However, There’s a limiting belief out there that an activist is always marching, always calling, always pounding their fists against the doors of injustice.

The power of diversity also applies to activism. When we open to the many ways and many seasons of activism, we enter the limitless potential for a paradigm shift in consciousness.

We each must go through necessary phases of action, reflection, processing, rest, and renewed resolve. We do this well when we trust that as we enter reflection, someone else is entering action. We do this well when we spring back into action, knowing it’s our turn.

Life is not linear. Activism, change, relationships- none of these things follow a straight, upward line. 

Millions of us in the West are beginning to reawaken, en masse, to a more circular understanding of life. The surge of awareness around self-care alone is a very good sign that we are culturally returning to an ancient understanding of the cycles of life in ways that befit the Modern Age.

Renowned thought-leader and deep-ecologist, Joanna Macy, has instructed thousands on this, in The Work That Reconnects, a process of moving through the Life-Death-Life cycle of all things. Her work also reminds us that our activism will not be a clear ascent to justice, as most of us can intuit.

It will contain suffering; it will require courage and healing. It will spin seemingly out of control at times, as spirals do. But with each turn, the spiral widens- more join, more resources amass, more innovation. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. , “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it always bends toward justice.”

Macy (and many others) also point to another, equally important truth regarding activist work: Every person, every issue, every campaign for justice is interconnected and is therefore important and needed.

Working to protect refugees doesn’t mean you are neglecting the environment. Dedicating your life, even, to protecting the environment does not mean that you don’t care about human life.

It’s our egos, our cultural story of scarcity, our fear-of-missing-out-ness which causes us to, on the one hand, feel immeasurable guilt for not doing more, and on the other hand, allows us to become self-righteous about “our” cause, or our perception of how things should be done. Apathy grows from these lonely places.

Until we begin to internalize a story of interconnectedness, we will continue to feel that we either aren’t doing enough, or that we have to compete with other causes and approaches, always stressed into deciding what’s the most “immediate need,” the most important action.

At a politically-charged time such as this, there is an incredible cacophony of brilliant actions all at once. Slowly, organization and synthesis begins to happen. From there, we can find our proper (and realistic) roles. The importance of timely, organized action is undeniable. However, enduring action by each individual, according to their own gifts and circumstances and current energy, holds the most power in the long run.

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No one, not one of us, is here by mistake. Each of us has special skills and gifts. It’s a revolutionary act simply to find and name those skills and gifts, to seek out honest answers as to who we really are, and where we need to grow.

Maybe it’s also revolutionary to believe that sharing our gifts from a place of Love, even in seemingly inconsequential ways, is sufficient. No doubt, it's a revolutionary act to show up for your family, your children, your neighbors- to consistently become more peaceful inside our own minds, and amidst our immediate surroundings.

I had a panic attack last week while simply making dinner for my family from sheer, political overwhelm. I doubt I’m alone in that. It’s encouraging to see how many are discussing “activist burn-out” as a real thing! Activist overwhelm is a real thing too. When I feel that fearful, egoist, scarcity mindset showing up, I find comfort thinking about what you all are doing out there. To you, I am most grateful.

Alone, we are easily crushed by the weight of the world on our shoulders. Together, in a diverse symphony of action and personal transformation, we are literally unstoppable.

Together, we trust each other to take the reins, trust in diverse ways of doing things, trust that each of us is committed to a more beautiful and just world. Trust that sitting by a dying Grandmother, hearing her last stories, or nursing a newborn in the quiet hours of the night, is as much an act of rebellion and resistance to fear and separation as is the mass march, petition, or boycott.

Do what you can , when you can, with as much Love as you can. May you each feel your immeasurable worth in these trying and demanding times.

*Recommended Reading:

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Charles Eisenstien's The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible is a treasure chest for inner and outer activism. He uses the example of sitting with a dying loved-one as a revolutionary act in a culture that has largely abandoned its elders.

Pema Chodron’s seminal work, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times, says it all in the title.

Joanna Macy’s Active Hope: How To Face This Mess We're In Without Going Crazy is a worthy 21st century companion.

header art: banksy / david boyle