How do we make activism a sustainable habit?
I don’t know about you, friends, but the news is just too much right now. Mass shootings, racism, war, eroding democracy and choices. It’s overwhelming, and I’d rather just pretend that everything is fine and go back to my life. Here’s the thing—I can’t. I have the ability to make a difference, and I need to stay engaged. But how? How do we stay engaged when it’s just all too much? How do we keep from going numb and turning away? How do we make activism a sustainable habit?
I’ve been trying to find an answer to this question for much of my adult life. While I definitely do not have all the answers, I have stumbled upon a very simple habit that I think I can continue over the long term. I thought that I’d share it with you, in case you want to join me.
Words that made me think
A few weeks ago, when some horrible news story or other broke (honestly, who can keep track?), I saw a story on Instagram that stopped me in my tracks. “Find your joy,” it said. “The news is terrible, be angry, grieve, but then find your joy. Resist from a place of joy. It’s the only way to keep going.”
Now joy isn’t the right emotion right now, and this post was not referencing mass shootings. But the point is still taken that rage and grief motivates us to act in the moment, but these intense feelings fade over time, and we return to our lives.
We aren’t meant to live our lives in shock, rage, and grief
Make no mistake—we should return to our lives. It is normal and healthy. Our lives were not meant to be lived in a constant state of shock, rage, and grief.
However, just because our emotions return to an equilibrium, doesn’t mean that our problems went away. Indeed, they usually fester, the will to act subsides with the change in headlines. Then it happens again. If you’re anything like me, on top of the rage, grief, and shock, I feel guilty. I think part of what has me feeling so overwhelmed is that I am in constant reactive mode.
Here’s the thing—we need to stay engaged. We can’t ignore injustice and hope that it goes away while we go about our lives. We have to remain involved, but we can do it from a different place. Ultimately, we need to be doing the work from a place of joy.
We also need to make activism a sustainable habit.
I tried one approach, and it didn’t quite work
I’ve tried lots of different approaches to try to keep my engagement sustained, but let’s take the most recent one. Late last year, I tried to make engagement a habit by focusing on one issue a month and trying to take practical action to help. I blogged about it as the Do Something series.
While I think taking the time to focus on an issue exclusively wasn’t a bad idea, it didn’t really work. For one thing, we have more than one problem, and they take more than one month to resolve. Emergencies come up, like, say, wars, that don’t lend themselves to a nice set of actions that can be done and dusted in a month.
Try, try again: Weekly Heckraising
If at first I don’t succeed, try, try again. So here’s a different approach, and one that I think is sustainable in the long run and could prove more effective. It’s shockingly simple.
I made recurring calendar appointment.
Each Wednesday afternoon, I am taking a few minutes to call my elected officials. I’m sharing with them my views and demanding that they support legislation I support. I also have added companies whose practices I think could use some improvement.
I’m calling it Weekly Heckraising. I’m reminding those I’m representing that I’m here and that I’m keeping tabs.
My elected officials happen to agree with me—I’m still calling
Now, there aren’t too many bluer areas than mine—one of my senators is Elizabeth Warren, and my congressperson is a member of the Squad. My state representation is awesome, and I like my city councilor. We have a new mayor, and I’ve made sure to share my thoughts with her as well. The governor . . . well? He’s not running again.
Still, I call them and I tell them to fight and to encourage them to keep going.
I also call Chuck Schumer, because the Senate is where a lot of good work has gone to die. I call him about pushing harder about the filibuster and playing hardball.
Will my Weekly Heckraising work? I don’t know
Will my weekly phone calls work? I don’t know. Probably not, at least, if I’m the only one doing it. However, no gun legislation is going to get 60 votes, meaning 9 votes from Republicans, if we don’t keep the pressure up. I don’t want that to happen because I stopped paying attention.
We won’t address climate change, protect for our choices and voting rights, or make a more just and peaceful world if we don’t keep demanding it from our leaders.
Join me in some Weekly Heckraising?
Let’s make activism a sustainable habit. If you don’t already have a regular practice of contacting your elected officials, I invite you to join me in some Weekly Heckraising. (If you do have a regular practice, please let us know what works for you in the comments.) If you want to write to them, do that! Basically, just get in touch with them.
Here’s how it works:
- Make a recurring calendar appointment
- Get your list of elected officials and their phone numbers
- Are there others you want to contact? Maybe a couple of companies?
- Spend a little time preparing
- What issues do you want them to address? Is there a bill they should support (or reject)?
- Are there organizations that are doing this work? Look to their work and cite it in your calls (and take the opportunity to get involved)
- Call your officials and share your message
- Repeat each week (and follow up with them)
I made a template for you to use to help organize your calls. Click on the image above to download (no subscription required).
Making activism a habit can help
Taking proactive action has some real benefits:
- Keeps focus on issues we care about and focuses on practical actions
- Helps us know that we’ve done what we can
- You’ll already be there when something happens, and you’ll know where to look for what to do
Have ideas for something great? Share those too!
By the way, this doesn’t always have to be about threats. We can also call them and ask them to act on our dreams. Maybe there’s a patch of ground in your town that could become a park? Maybe you want a festival of some kind. Maybe have a bigger idea. Share it with people who can help you make your dream a reality. Who knows? It could work.
Weekly Heckraising can be a start
We aren’t going to fix the world. But by making activism a habit, we can help to create change. There’s obviously much more to do, and I hope that in our research for our weekly calls, we find those organizations doing the real work and find opportunities to get involved in issue we care about.
What issues are you calling about? Who have you spoken with? Please let us know in the comments. Please also share your ideas for how to make activism a sustainable habit.
Let’s go create change!