I’ve been joking for a while that no one would pick me for their Zombie Apocalypse Team. Except maybe as the friend you sacrifice to slow down the horde that’s chasing you.
That sentiment, along with the post-election fallout, and this week’s episode of The Walking Dead all led to one insane nightmare earlier in the week. As concrete rubble rained down on me and a stranger, she began crying. I grabbed her arm and said, “We’re not dead yet.” But it felt like maybe death wasn’t too far off.
That’s about the point I woke up from the dream to my pulse pounding in my ears. While waiting for my body’s overly sensitive stress response to chill out, I started thinking about what contingencies I should be planning for come January 21, 2017.
Then this morning I read that Tom Hanks wants us all to calm down and my eyes rolled so far back in my head, you guys.
Some people would tell you you’re overreacting if you drive around with a spare tire in your trunk. I’m guessing those people ride in limos and taxis and always fly first class.
Yeah, being calm under fire is helpful. However, when Hanks says, “We are going to be all right. America has been in worse places than we are at right now,” and “We who are a week into wondering what the hell just happened will continue to move forward,” I wish someone would tell him to sit the fuck down.
Just because his rich, privileged ass has always walked away unscathed doesn’t mean the rest of the nation can expect the same. He might move forward; others might have to take a few steps back to put their hijabs back on. To mourn their loved ones. To protect their children. To find a safe place to live.
Intentional or not, he’s made a public call for complacency. I wish he’d requested our diligence instead.
This post is for my friend Angela.
The more I write about activism, the more you’ll understand how loosely I use the word “rules.” But here’s something to get us all started.
1. Embrace the Discomfort
Being an activist is not easy. It requires doing things outside your comfort zone, taking a stand against powerful oppressors and oppressive systems, getting the side eye from people you love and respect, and confronting ignorance, both willful and accidental.
When these things happen and you start to lose confidence in what you’re doing, when you start thinking maybe you’re being too pushy or too bold and you’re doing yourself and your cause a disservice—please realize these feelings are signs you’re doing it right. You’re pushing for change but still able to evaluate if what you’re doing is helpful or harmful. That’s the sweet spot.
2. Reject Absolute Binary Positions
People who insist that saying Black Lives Matter means you can’t respect white lives and love indigenous people are just wrong.
When I tell my mother “I love you” my husband doesn’t pitch a fit and divorce me because suddenly I no longer love him.
I think as activists we are already sensitive to absurdities like these. But false binaries come from within social movements and organizations too. In college, for example, a fellow activist theorized that our group should discount religious organizations because they harbor oppressors and encourage “othering.”
Your allies are everywhere, and finding them in unlikely places is exhilarating. However, when we accept oversimplified narratives about very complex issues, we decrease our chances of finding them.
3. Prep for Exhaustion
Before you really dig in, I want you to prepare for the inevitable exhaustion. Being an activist can be physically exhausting or mentally exhausting or emotionally exhausting or any combination of these.
Identify the things that make you feel good and help you recharge and be ready to run to them when you need them.
My first-tier aid is music. I have a couple of playlists—one called “Empowering” that includes Shakira’s “Try Everything” and P!nk’s “Fuckin’ Perfect.” Then I have another playlist called “Relax and Soothe” that includes songs like John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Carrie Newcomer’s “Leaves Don’t Drop (They Just Let Go).”
Humor is another great healer. I thank God for the John Olivers and Amy Poehlers and Dave Chappelles and Bill Hickses of the world whose work keeps us woke but laughing.
Okay, there’s a lot more to cover. Stay tuned!