How To Stay Politically Active When You Just Can't Even

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The news cycle is enough to make you lose hope. Every day brings some fresh horror, or an update on an ongoing horror, or rumblings of horrors to come. It’s like being repeatedly smacked in the face with a tetherball. The events of the last couple of years have pushed some of us to be more politically active, which obviously leads to more political awareness... which can lead to despondency. (See tetherball, above.) Activists digging in for the long haul have to learn how to pace themselves and keep their spirits up.

That’s the question Tanzina Vega, the host of WNYC’s the Takeaway, asked at the Prosperity Summit in Washington a few weeks ago: How can we carry on in the face of what seems to be massive indifference to human suffering? She turned to activists and self-described “hopeaholics” Gloria Steinem and DeRay Mckesson on “sustaining hope and optimism” for the long haul.

Forget 'Should'

Steinem kicked off her answer by emphasising that merely listening to people “is the most revolutionary thing we could possibly do.” You don’t have to be storming the castle every day to make a difference. Beyond that, she said, “Part of the despair comes from a case of the ‘shoulds’ — what should I do, as opposed to every day getting up and thinking I’m going to do everything I can.” That means speaking out and reaching out to those who need you.

You — By Yourself — Can Effect Change

Mckesson said to remember that “the status quo thrives on people not believing that they have power.” If you believe that your voice actually matters, you’ll use it—in whatever way you can. Don’t let the bad guys tell you a single person can’t make a difference. “Know that you have more power than you think.”

Be a 'Hopeaholic'

Here’s why you shouldn’t let yourself despair: “Hope is a form of planning,” said Steinem. “Hope is a vision of what you’re going to do the next day and the next.” Even if you’re a natural Eeyore, allow yourself be inspired by other people’s hope and energy. Mckesson said you can “not live in somebody’s shadow but live in their glow,” of people who are inspiring others to activism.

Find the People Doing the Heavy Lifting, and Support Them

A Facebook friend of mine said, “You don’t have to be an organisational or logistical genius to effect change. You just have to find the people who are.” This friend led me to Julie Schwietert Collazo, the founder of Immigrant Families Together, which provides logistical and financial support for parents who’ve been forcibly separated from their children at the US border. I am definitely not an organisational or logistical genius — but I can donate money to those who are. These people are the boots on the ground, sure, but they still need money and volunteers.

Remember That It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The struggle for human rights is as old as time. There will be real-life epic battles between good and evil forever. We will never be “finished.” Ongoing, small, cumulative efforts are as critical as splashy events, so pace yourself and take breaks when you need to: “What’s important is how your steady, consistent, proactive efforts lead to cumulative impact, so step back when you need to do so, and come back when you’re able,” said Collazo in an email.

Even on bad days, days when it feels like no progress is being made, you can still talk and you can still listen, even if it’s from the comfort of your living room couch, Collazo said: “While it’s ideal if your activism isn’t solely restricted to amplifying messages on social media, don’t buy into the idea that sharing posts on Facebook is “slacktivist”—gaining visibility and giving voice to people and causes that are overlooked and underreported are tremendously important.” So maybe today you’re volunteering and calling and raising money, but tomorrow you’re merely re-tweeting. Fight with the tools you have, take inspiration where you can get it, and give yourself a break from the tetherball—I mean the news cycle—when you need to.


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