Emily’s Introductory Rules for New Activists
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!