Message to New Activists

Things needed change before, and many activists have been in these fights for a long time. After the election, I had conversations with many activists in different fields, and they all said the same thing vis-a-vis the new energy and attention to social injustices in the U.S. It is striking, across many different areas of activism, the same conversations. So I want to try to articulate what I have heard on their behalves. (My thoughts are in parens.)
  1. They are exhausted. It’s been hard enough fighting for justice under President Obama. (True. See: locking up Central American babies.)
  2. They feel a bit ungrateful, but the new surge of energy means so many people asking more of their time.
  3. They worry that once someone finds out social justice work involves a delusional amount of banging your head on brick walls, interrupted by banging your head on brick walls with sharp things protruding from the walls, the person will tire of justice work. (Don’t get tired: realize you earn a bad-ass badge with every wall you hit.)
  4. They worry that a lawyer taking on pro bono cases will discover not all their clients are immediately grateful or return calls, and tire of pro bono work. (Don’t get tired. Sometimes your biggest pain in the ass clients surprise you and teach you things you weren’t expecting. Of course, sometimes they don’t, and then you just get to complain. I am here for you when this happens.)
  5. They hope people will realize no single person can do everything. So many interlocking systems grind the most vulnerable down, and if you fight them all, you’re not good at fighting any one of them. They hope people don’t get disillusioned by the thought of that. (My cure for this: Mary Oliver’s “Song of the Builders.”)
  6. They hope people pick one issue they care so much about, and then get educated about it. About the issue, but also about the fight. Who has been writing on this, who has been organizing, who has a good network already in place.
  7. Once that happens, they hope folks find a way to be of service to those good efforts instead of creating new ones. And remember that service can absolutely include donating and then reading the action alerts that worthy organization sends along to you. (Note to self: stop deleting action alerts when I get them.) The ways you serve people can be local and small, and can be things you love to do from writing to art to…anything.

There is so much need, and now so much energy, and if we can just get focus ourselves, be kind to ourselves, be humble and patient, we’re going to BRING IT in 2017 and beyond.