Action Report #5: Self-Care for the Resistance
It’s been a tough week for action. My husband and I flew to our new city for an inspection on our (we hope) new house the Sunday after the Women’s March on NYC. While we were there, I learned, among other things, that it is hard to call east coast legislators from a west coast time zone– by the time I was ready to call, offices had been closed for hours. Then, one morning, I realized that between daily housing inspection meetings and the daily news– bad on all fronts– I was simply numb. That’s when I stumbled across this Medium post by attorney Mirah Curzer: How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind: Self-Care Lessons for the Resistance
These words grabbed my heart:
“This is not going to be an easy four years. We’re going to be subjected to constant gaslighting by the President and his administration. We’ll be dealing with a ferocious, multi-front attack on the entire progressive agenda, without exception, and a lot of it is going to succeed. We’re going to helplessly watch institutions we care about and depend upon destroyed. The Trump years are going to be emotionally exhausting and deeply traumatic for all of us, but particularly to those dedicated to protecting the vulnerable and preserving democracy.
Most of us are not ready to take on the mantle of the resistance. There are things we can do now to get ready, but if we don’t, the ranks of would-be activists and resisters are going to thin out very quickly.”
This wonderful piece gently, humorously, goes through four strategies veteran activists and professional organizers have for keeping sane. Here’s a brief rundown, but trust me– you need to read this article for yourself.
- Don’t get used to Trump, get away from him. Constant exposure will do nothing but normalize his actions, thinking, and beliefs in your brain. Mirah Curzer writes, “People can get used to anything, and if you don’t take steps to prevent it, you will get used to Trump.” And there in the numbness, democracy washes down the drain. So do it– take a break from all of it: Twitter, the NY Times, the Washington Post, NPR, Fox News, Facebook– whatever you check to stay up-to-date. The point is, we don’t have to.
I have to plead guilty here. Over the weekend, at an education conference, I was clicking between all kinds of news outlets, checking in almost hourly. While it was uplifting to read of the protests, it was probably not good for my sanity. Before conference sessions started Saturday morning, I texted my husband a four-word update about our car. That was immediately followed by this text:
That Steve Bannon would take more words in my text– and space in my thoughts– than the measly four words about our car; that this news would slide so easily before a quick hug and kiss doesn’t bode well for balance. (Note to self: what will you do differently today?)
- Focus your energy on one or two issues. Curzer writes, “The movement works as a coalition of people focused on different issues, so don’t let anyone convince you that by focusing your energy on one or two issues, you have effectively sided with the bad guys on everything else.” Curzer cautions that she’s not joining ranks with those who argue that so-called “identity politics” dilutes “real” issues, like economic policy. She also cautions that us newbies shouldn’t feel shamed by our inexperience. (Note to self: Duly noted.)
- Make activism fun. I love that she writes, “You don’t have to suffer to make a difference.” Even reading her examples of how to make activism fun is, well… fun. (Note to self: This is probably why you get such a kick out of profane and clever protest signs. Enjoy those, baby. Grab that moment of tickled funny bone and hang on tight.)
- Take care of the basics. This is a great list of advice for anyone who does the best and hardest work– educators, parents, social workers, etc.– and particularly for those of us now activating our activist-selves for the long haul. (Note to self: Call Mom!)
Curzer’s words echoed through my thoughts during the conference. It makes sense– being an educator is powerful political work. But one session was particularly significant.
The Privileged Voices in Education 4.0 was about how we as educators deal with the issue of privilege, personally, in our classrooms, and in our work with colleagues. Jose Vilson, with Audrey Watters, facilitated the 90 minute conversation focused on these questions: Whose voices are heard in education (ed-activism, ed-tech, ed-union, ed-policy) circles? While it might be easy to identify (and lambast) the “corporate” voices, are we truly offering and supporting diverse voices in response? What does diversity, inclusion, and true equity and liberation in our current conversations? How can we do better? The session streamed live, so you can see it here.
For me, there were two key moments. The first came early in the session, when a black middle school teacher raised her hand to talk about her experiences of living as an oppressed person while trying to explain oppression to people of privilege. “I’m just so tired. I’m…I’m done,” she said. She took a deep breath, then added, “Not really. But I’m just…tired.” The second moment came toward the end of the session, when Audrey Watters told about how geese fly such long distances in their V formations.
Leaning toward the middle school teacher, Watters said that there’s always a leader, a goose out in front. That goose breaks the wind for the geese following– the followers have an easier time because they fly in the leader’s wake. But that lead goose can’t stay up front all the time. That goose gets tired. So it falls off the front of the V and drifts to the back, where it rests for a while on the jet stream of the birds in front of it. It hasn’t stopped flying, it hasn’t even really stopped leading. It’s simply resting.
I am no leader of movements. But like so many other people, I feel causes deeply and I expect myself to act accordingly. Doesn’t resting come after the work is done? Ah, but that is Cruzer’s point. This is not work that will be completed overnight.
I just checked Twitter, where tweets about a Monday Night Massacre have begun to appear. The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has been fired. Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Daniel Ragsdale has been dismissed. Fragments of other stories float down the Twitter stream….
Indivisible has a page of information about what’s happening in Congress this week, with actions that we can take. But right now, I am getting off social media to spend time with my family, to get some sleep. Come morning, the work will be there. Come morning, I’ll pick up the phone.