Activism Fatigue is Real but We Can Fight It Together

Bringing positive change to our communities is a noble goal but can be overwhelming. Don’t give up! You are not alone.

In this article, we explore how activists find the encouragement, wisdom, and hope to not stand idly by.

When I was in sixth grade, some of the boys in my class started scratching swastikas into the desks.  We had a long-term substitute at the time, Mrs. A, and even after 30 years of teaching, I am impressed by the wisdom of her response. Realizing the boys were acting in ignorance, she canceled all lessons the following day and taught us about the Holocaust.  During this lesson, the phrase “Don’t stand idly by” lodged in my brain and became a guiding principle in my life.  It’s why I marched with the United Farmworkers, joined the Alliance for Survival to stop the arms race, and today write letters to my representatives, attend BLM rallies, and go to every women’s march.  My children have a “My First Protest” page in their baby books.  

I am not virtual signaling here.  I am confessing.  

The last five years have so worn me down that I have almost given up.  Almost.  Because I know I cannot stand idly by, no matter the fatigue of seeing our country divided so deeply and our democratic institutions threatened in the service of politicians’ egos.   

I am not alone.  

We’ve worked hard to make a difference.  We’ve gone to protests, donated, written postcards, contacted our representatives and senators, had heated discussions, engaged in workshops, changed our habits, gotten out the vote…but now, we find ourselves wondering if any of it mattered and echoing the sentiments of Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles–I’m so tired!  We’ve done all this work for change during a pandemic, which has disrupted many of our support systems and community connections.  Activism fatigue is real, and we need to help each other when it hits.

I think the first step is to acknowledge that don’t-stand-idly-by-fatigue is real.  I hope this blog will provide us with a place to admit our fatigue, get support, and offer our own solutions.  

In search of my own answers, I happened upon an article in that asked 11 women activists how they handle their activism fatigue.  It’s a great article, and I encourage you to read it, but here are a few ideas that stood out for me.

Find support. Real support.  As Becca Tieder, cofounder or Sexversations and founder of One Student states:  “You need a crew with whom you can drop your armor and say, ‘This is hard.’” When we give advice, are dismissive, or get a little preachy with someone struggling, we make things worse.  It can cause people to burn out and drop out altogether.  If instead we listen and empathize, we can be the soul-balm that can help someone keep going.  Let us embrace our friends and co-activists when they are vulnerable and let them know that we are there for them, that it’s okay for them to take a breather, that self-care is not only okay but essential.  Who can you count on for support?   How do you give support to others?                                                             

Take care of yourself.                                                                                                                Carmen Perez, director of Gathering for Justice, shared:  “To stay energized and engaged, I drink a lot of water, I practice gratitude by listing three things I’m grateful for in the morning, I work out and eat healthy, watch comedies, send myself positive affirmations, and surround myself with people I love and admire. And when I’m feeling discouraged, I pray—a lot and for everybody.”  Personally, I go to meditation, therapy, and no phones or news after 8 pm.  Also, journaling gives me a place to dump all those negative thoughts as well as to remember the good moments with gratitude.  Lucy McBath, a stricter gun laws advocate, adds:  “I remember that this movement is going to go on whether I take a little break right now or not. You have to give yourself a chance to breathe, to do the things you used to do before you took up this cause. It’s important to have a balance. We have to give ourselves permission to say, “Today I don’t have to be an activist.”  How do you take care of yourself?

Remember the power of one.                                                                                               One person can make a difference.  We know the stories of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall, Cesar Chavez, Gretta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, and others who changed or are changing the world today.  But we don’t have to be famous to make a difference.  In fact, these change-makers were just ordinary people who saw something wrong and decided they could not stand idly by.  They took a first step and then another.  Doors opened.  People joined them.  They created movements.  We can be inspired by their stories. We can find ordinary people in our own cities who are making positive change happen.  Maybe we cannot dedicate our whole lives, but we can do what we can. Baby steps matter. Right now, I write postcards for voting, go to local protests, and donate.  I’m coming out of a period of fatigue,  and I’m taking things one action at a time.

Are you experiencing activism fatigue and need someone to listen?  Share your story here in the comments.  How do you take care of yourself?  What keeps you going?  Let’s support and inspire each other as we work to make the world a better place.

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