The news is overwhelming these days. Hurricanes, wildfires, increasingly violent bigotry, decreasing access to medical care, war, genocide, environmental destruction. To secure our own survival and to be good people we want to do something, only it never seems like enough.
How do we resist enough? How do we know that we are doing our part, whether we are losing or winning? How do we choose our priorities between the big picture and the small details of our own lives? How do we care for ourselves and each other as our political infrastructure crumbles around us?
In part, these are spiritual questions that we each have to answer for ourselves. What effect do we want to have on the world? What is our role to play? What is the right way to live for each of us? What qualities do we admire in good people?
When the news is overwhelming and triggering, we leap into emergency mode. We burn our resources at an unsustainable rate, borrowing from the future because emergencies are supposed to be short-term. In 2017, the stream of bad news has not stopped. We need to change our strategies and our standards to integrate resistance sustainably into our lives.
A key part of sustainable resistance is allowing yourself to feel how you feel, whether it is guilt, horror, rage, fear, or joy. All your emotions and reactions are valid.
When the bad news is happening to you – flooding, or deportation, or hate crime, or losing vital medical care – then it makes sense to be in emergency mode. Your resistance can be reaching out to others for help and support.
Resistance can be affirmative, creative, connected, nourishing. When we say No to one thing, what are we saying Yes to? How can we make our Yeses louder? When our resistance helps us live the way we want to live, we are succeeding even if the specific cause or battle is lost.
To be sustainable, our resistance has to use fewer personal resources than we take in overall. Some resources are easy to inventory, like free time and money. Some are harder, like energy and resilience. We can monitor our resources over time, and notice if we are feeling drained or desperate. We can choose resistance that supports and nourishes us as well as making a difference in the world.
We each carry a mix of privilege and oppression, comfort and strain. If we already live in emergency mode because of past or ongoing trauma, our resistance might start with learning new skills of self-care and living within our limits in sustainable ways. If we lead a busy modern life but have resources to spare, we can spend more time, energy, or money on resistance and keep an eye on our ongoing resource balance.
Many ways to resist
We might believe that resistance only looks one way, and that it has to be all or nothing. In truth, every little bit counts. We can focus on a few issues that matter most to us. We each do the piece we are currently called to do, in a way that fits our resources, skills and aptitudes. We have to trust that others around us are doing their part. No one can carry the weight of the world alone.
- Creating and leading organizations
- Creating and leading events
- Attending meetings and events
- Giving money and other donations to organizations and organizers
- Creating online directories to help others find events
- Creating art and writing that expresses resistance
- Buying art and writing
- Sharing emotional support with other people who resist
- Naming oppression out loud in our daily lives
- Shopping locally and being mindful of what our spending supports
- Doing our inner work
- All the many ways to make the world a better place
Resist with your strengths
As we consider adding resistance activities, we can take into account our strengths and skills, and what we want more or less of in our lives. For some people, calling representatives is easy. For some it is hard, but doable. For some it is terrifying. We do not need more terror in our lives.
Some people want more connection and might want to join a group or lead one. Some people have social anxiety and would prefer to do activism online or by sending money.
Some want to do more service and can contribute volunteer hours and emotional labor toward resistance. Some are already overwhelmed with service for jobs and families and need some space where no one is demanding anything of us.
Some can contribute small monthly donations or larger one-time donations. We can support local organizations like Sisters of the Road in Portland as well as national ones like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Join with skilled people
We are not resisting alone. Organized resistance is a set of skills that some people have already practiced. For example, many people of color have been living with oppression and discrimination for far too long, and have learned how to resist both politically and personally. If we cannot find an existing organization, we can form a group of people who want to learn together.
At the October 2017 RaceTalks, Randy Blazak said that resistance against racism can be divided into institutional, community, and personal activism. We can divide all kinds of resistance into those three categories.
Institutional resistance – please vote
Resistance at the institutional level changes laws, runs for office, calls elected representatives, signs petitions, and votes. Please vote in every election, including the one on November 7, 2017, even if you only have local issues or candidates on the ballot. Local politics directly affects you and your neighbors.
If you want to call your representatives, 5calls.org makes it easy to know who to call and what to say about currently important issues.
Resistance at the community level goes to protests, gets out the vote, runs meetings, teaches others about resistance, and intervenes when someone is being bullied.
Resistance at the personal level learns about privilege and oppression and builds daily self-awareness about how we participate in those systems. Personal resistance is also self-care, unpacking the ways we believe we are not enough, and treating ourselves with compassion. When we work to heal ourselves, we reduce the harm that trauma and abuse do in the world, both because we deserve to feel better, and because we learn to treat others better.
As we read books by women, people of color, and other marginalized groups, we learn about other perspectives. We gradually learn to question the pervasive centering of straight cis white men in our narratives and in our lives. It is a lifelong practice to decenter the ways we are privileged and listen to those with less privilege. Writers of Color 50 Books Challenge Community gives a starting point with reviews of books written by people of color.
There are classes about resisting oppression and workshops on how to intervene in bigotry or hate crimes. For example, the Portland YWCA offers Trainings for Social Change. Search online for classes and bystander intervention trainings local to you.
Adjust over time
When you feel overwhelmed, desperate, or worn out, give yourself kind permission to pull back rather than push forward. Perhaps you can reduce the amount of news you take in. Notice which activities nourish you, and which drain you. Your life and your well-being matter. Resist by seeking support.
You are enough
Working toward what you believe in is a lifelong practice. The specifics will change over time. Give yourself credit for the choices you have already built into your life, like recycling or reduced car use. Remember that you are not alone, and that you are doing what you can. If you doubt that you are doing enough, resist more in some way. If you get overwhelmed, resist less. Kindness to yourself and others is also resistance.
- In her book of essays Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit describes how change happens at the margins, slowly, then all at once. We quickly forget the long battles that have already been won, especially environmental battles where victory leaves a region unchanged. Very encouraging!
- In their book Active Hope, Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone give practical steps for living the story of the Great Turning toward sustainable lives.
- 5calls.org – who to call and what to say about currently important issues.
- Writers of Color 50 Books Challenge Community – reviews of books by writers of color. A great place to find books to widen your perspective, even if you do not take the challenge to read 50 in a year.
- Portland, OR: pdxactivist.org – a wide variety of activist events.
- Portland, OR: RaceTalks – a monthly event run by Donna Maxey with presentations and conversations about race. “Filling the spaces between race with compassion and education.”
- Videos of recent RaceTalks.