Glennon Doyle referred to “activism as self-care” on a recent On Being Podcast, and it was a moment of epiphany for me.
I love The Resilient Activist’s definition of activism:
“Activism is the art of taking action to support, nurture, and protect what we hold dear.”The Resilient Activist
I’ve been an activist according to The Resilient Activist’s definition for my entire life – beginning as a child to take responsibility for things in my family to reduce the dysfunction, volunteering at church, mentoring younger students, etc. For me, there has been no other way to be……I learned very early that to survive in this broken world there is a never-ending need to “support, nurture, and protect what we hold dear” to keep it from being damaged, hurt, or destroyed.
Stepping into Environmental Activism
I was fairly insulated from the environmental movement as a child – it wasn’t something my parents worried about or discussed very often. We celebrated Earth Day, but it wasn’t until I went to graduate school in environmental science that environmental issues and concerns came into my awareness in a significant way.
After graduate school, I took a position with a consulting firm working as a contractor to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I was part of an interdisciplinary team investigating potential contamination at hazardous waste sites. I saw first-hand the danger and damage that the improper use and disposal of chemicals could cause to the environment and to communities. These experiences spurred my journey into environmental activism.
My Activism has taken many forms
My activism to raise awareness and bring about behavioral change related to environmental degradation and climate change has taken many forms;
- calling and writing letters to elected officials,
- leading an environmental club at my children’s elementary school,
- organizing recycling and waste minimization efforts at school-wide events,
- volunteering with various environmentally-focused organizations,
- serving on the boards of several environmental non-profits, and
- some limited political action.
2016 Election: a wake-up call
However, the 2016 election was a wake-up call to me that my activism needed to become significantly more political. Prior to that time, I had worked on several political campaigns, making phone calls and canvassing door to door, but it wasn’t until the 2018 mid-term election that I put my entire heart and soul into working for a candidate. The results of the 2016 election revealed that much of “what we hold dear” could be wiped away in an instant with a change in elected officials – whether it be at the local, state, or federal level. Every election matters.
The emotions that I felt after the election were so intense – anger, frustration, sadness, loss, hopelessness, and more. I struggled to find a path out of despair. I wrote a blog for a few months, sharing thoughts, insights, books, podcasts, and encouragement as I worked through my next steps on how to move forward. After six months I couldn’t write it anymore. I was too sad and needed to find another way to channel my activism and find hope.
John Pavlovitz, a writer, pastor, and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina eloquently summarizes much of how I felt in 2016-2017 (and still feel) in his post, “I’m Not The Radical Left, I’m The Humane Middle”, an excerpt of which is shared below:
I never considered myself radical before.
I just thought I was normal, ordinary, usual.
I thought equity was important to everyone.
I imagined America was filled with people who took that Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness stuff seriously—for all people.
I thought the Golden Rule was actually mainstream.
Recently I took an inventory of my positions, screening for the extremism:
I believe in full LGBTQ rights.
I believe we should protect the planet.
I believe everyone deserves healthcare.
I believe all religions are equally valid.
I believe the world is bigger than America.
I believe to be “pro-life,” means to treasure all of it.
I believe women should have autonomy over their own bodies.
I believe whiteness isn’t superior and it is not the baseline of humanity.
I believe we are all one interdependent community.
I believe people and places are made better by diversity.
I believe people shouldn’t be forced to abide by anyone else’s religion.
I believe non-American human beings have as much value as American ones.
I believe generosity is greater than greed, compassion better than contempt, and kindness superior to derision.
I believe there is enough in this world for everyone: enough food, enough money, enough room, enough care—if we unleash our creativity and unclench our fists…….
I realized I had to do more
I realized that my white privilege had allowed me to take these things for granted….and if I really believed that there is enough of everything in this world for everyone, then I had to do more.
I had to get out of my bubble.
For me, there wasn’t any other way forward to address these issues without putting my whole self into political activism. Literally, my health and well-being depended upon my participation in electing candidates who would support, advocate and address climate change, social justice, environmental degradation, and systemic racism.
So, in 2018 my husband and I volunteered for a congressional candidate and became part of a historic and successful campaign. We gave up evenings, weekends, and I even used some vacation days to volunteer. Since the 2018 election, I’ve continued to volunteer for a number of candidates running for local, state, and federal offices.
Sometimes it isn’t easy. You never know what kind of response you will get to a phone call, text, or when someone opens their door. Canvassing can be hot and sweaty (especially while wearing a mask), tiring, frustrating, and unsettling (I’ve been yelled at a few times). Conversely, I’ve also had some awesome conversations with folks…listening to their thoughts, fears, ideas, and sharing mine. I’ve changed minds, registered voters, and helped folks find their polling place or sign up for an advanced ballot.
I’ve given people hope that they aren’t alone in their frustration and despair.
I’ve met amazing, dedicated, tireless, brilliant, and thoughtful volunteers, candidates, staffers, and elected officials. I’ve made new friends. I’ve volunteered for winning candidates, and candidates who didn’t win. The joy of winning a hard-fought campaign for a wonderful candidate is incredible….and losing can be demoralizing. There have been many times when I have wanted to give up.
But despite some losses and setbacks, I’ve found that for me, environmental and social justice activism is not complete without political activism. The combination is the only way to “support, nurture, and protect what I hold dear”……which also includes myself.