I’m Outraged, but Failing at Activism

I've spoken to many people about this feeling. The feeling I'm failing at activism. That I'm not doing enough. I'm plagued by feelings of guilt that I'm not helping, supporting, donating, championing, volunteering, marching ... enough. I get cross and disappointed at friends and peers who don't march. I'm struggling more and more to know the difference between self-care that must come first and self-care being used as an excuse to bail - in myself and other people.  Some people said this feeling would diminish after becoming a parent. I'm only 3 months in and it's heightened. Sure, this might change but I doubt it.

Roxane Gay's reply is powerful and I've decided I'm going to pay attention to it. The full article is here

Dear Roxane,

Back in January, I emailed a group of friends asking if they planned to attend the Women’s March in New York City. A progressive black woman like myself replied: “Can’t make it. Completely swamped this weekend :(.” My first reaction was irritation. Are we going to look back at this moment in history and say, “We could have resisted but we were really swamped that weekend with brunch plans and deadlines?”

In the months since then, I’ve slowly realized, with considerable shame, that I am no better. I’ve been harboring equal measures of apathy since November 2016. I have what seem like good excuses: having a baby, illness and death in my family, a challenging job, etc., but the truth is, these mask my underlying condition of paralysis. I have made some weak attempts to engage (joining a call, buying a book, following the play-by-play of the Alabama special election) but nothing approximating real action. I have considered that I’m coping with the allostatic load of living as a black woman during what feels like a heightened moment of racism in the country by retreating, but I think that is only partly true.

I continue to be outraged by this administration’s treatment of Latinos, Native Americans, Muslims, L.G.B.T. folks, women and so many others. But I’m struggling to summon a response. Do you have words of wisdom to help me understand and perhaps overcome my feelings of apathy?


Apathetic idealist

Roxanne has two suggestions: Consume less news and pick one issue at a time in which to invest your social-justice-oriented energy.

It is difficult to balance activism and investing in the greater good with the demands of an ordinary life. It’s hard to know what to pay attention to and what to respond to and how. It is hard to bear the allostatic load of living as a black woman in a country where we continually have to assert our right to personhood. It is damn hard to expand the limits of our empathy when our emotional attention is already stretched too thin in a world run through with inequity, strife and suffering.
My point is, there is a lot going on in the world. There is a lot going on in my world. There is a lot going on in your world. This is the nature of life. We try to find ways to balance taking care of ourselves and our families, with caring about the world we live in and the greater good. Sometimes, we will fall short in one of these areas. Sometimes we will fall short in all of these areas. Most of the time, we do the best we can.
You are human, a woman trying to balance your own needs with doing good in the world, and right now, your own needs are winning out. Take the time you need. There is no shame in that so long as you remember to extend your empathy as far as you can when your emotional stores have replenished. I would worry if you didn’t care about the state of the world. I would worry if you didn’t ask this question.

Do you relate to this? How do you balance trying to make the world better with the demands of an ordinary life? I'd love to hear your stories and advice...