We are living in a movement, not a moment.
It’s hard to believe that while reading the latest outrage on social media or watching the famous daughter of famous people ape activism in a soft drink commercial. But to get at the root of the attitudes and behaviors that call for sustainable change, it’s going to take careful seeding and planting.
I should know. I didn’t plan it this way, but I’ve spent almost twenty years of my life working to improve the quality of life for minority women and children and immigrants, particularly as it relates to education and health care, as a former journalist, political operative, lobbyist and communications consultant to non-profits and government relations organizations.
It was hard work. I have suffered humiliation and defeat. I have been blacklisted and black-balled because of my blackness and my unwillingness to hide it or speak softly. I lost my job and during the ensuing months, I was so broke that I sat in a parking lot of a grocery store with $20 to my name and wondered how I was going to eat that week.
There were victories too. I also helped to elect in 2008 the first black/biracial man to become President of the United States. I worked to improve race relations in a small southern town so that black and Latina women could get access to life-saving mammograms. I watched as white, southern males worked alongside women and people of color to improve domestic violence laws and communities strategize on how to improve access to health care and social services for immigrants. So, I also know that change can happen. And the one thing I’ve learned from both my challenges and opportunities is that “activism is a practice.”
ACTIVISM IS A PRACTICE
What do I mean by this? I define “activism” as a sustained commitment to bringing your highest self in service of the challenges and opportunities in the beloved community.
That’s a lot in one sentence. Let’s unpack it a bit.
Sustained Commitment – There are many who are new to the movement for social change. Buoyed by their anger after Hillary Clinton’s loss, they joined every march, protest and petition they could find. They wanted to be “woke” and then they wanted to take a nap in the misguided notion of “self-care” after they realized that true change takes more than wanting it.
A “sustained commitment” means designing your life to support your activism. This doesn’t mean your children go hungry or your job doesn’t get done while you don your Wonder Woman bracelets to save the world. It means that you care enough about your activism to create supports so that it has a solid place to stand and so that you avoid burnout.
Have you, for example, worked out childcare arrangements when you engage in activist activities? Or does childcare mean you bring your children with you? Do you engage in regular spiritual and/or physical practices to help you breathe through difficult moments?
How much time can you realistically devote to your activism? Two hours a week? One weekend a month? And does your activist commitment match the reality of how you spend your time? For example, if you can only volunteer one weekend a month have you signed up for activities that require weekly input?
Your highest self – You do not need to be perfect to engage in activism. However, you need to bring your unique skills and talents in service of compassionate action.
Do you know what your skills and talents are? Do you know what role you might play as an activist? You can take my Change Maker Assessment to begin playing with the possibilities of shaping your activism. You must know who you are, what you stand for and what gifts you have to offer to the world.
Challenges and opportunities – Activism is frustrating and fluid. It is like the nomad that will seldom reach “there yet.” Nevertheless, your compass must be the work. Where can you best serve? What most needs your attention? What existing organizations and communities can you serve? How can you partner with them?
In the “Choose Your Channel for Change” Webinar, we discuss three explorations to help you discover and define your activism focus.
Beloved Community – In southern speak, “beloved community” means “all y’all.” Or if you are from other places in the country or the world, “beloved community” also means “all of us, together.” We can no longer afford to live in silos in which we wait for invitations from marginalized people to do the right thing.
We must be clear about the values we hold dear and policy areas that are non-negotiable. (For me, these are ending militarized policing in black and brown neighborhoods and ensuring access to high-quality education and health care for minorities and low-income people.)
Then, we must find areas of common ground and till the soil there with compassion, sacrifice and pragmatism. We will all have to sacrifice something. But we must if we want to use the current political and social convulsions in the United States to do better and to be better. We can, if like prayer or meditation or yoga and yes, love, we remember that activism is our practice.