• For more ways to integrate inner sustainability into your work, download Barry's “Insiste, Persiste, Resiste, Existe” courtesy of Urgent Action Fund, Front Line, and The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
What's the Point of the Revolution if We Can't Dance
When we are living under constant pressure, the stress and anxiety of staying alert gets to be too much. When we are this tired, we have no time to strategize, to analyze threats, to do our jobs well. Worries about feeding our families or retiring without a pension are as important as concerns about funding our organizations and combating violence. These are part of the same sustainability equation.
Sustainability is about being able to do the work we love, while still feeling full and happy in every part of our lives. It’s about feeling safe, feeling connected, feeling recognized, respected, and valued—for who
we are, as much as for what we do.
But how do we sustain ourselves? How do we maintain the energy needed to create the change we so desperately seek?
As a movement, I know that we are resilient. We get knocked down. And we get back up again. Here’s how.
As activists, we are each other’s families. We create peace by joining forces, by gathering, talking, and listening.
For many, the first time we come together with other activists is one of the first times that we find safety—not just in numbers but also in common experience. Sometimes, these spaces aren’t available in our own communities and we must seek them out by attending conferences, joining forums, and finding friends that can become our families and our pillars.
Let’s start talking. Not on the edges of conferences or in rushed e-mails. Not during tearful, exhausted calls from the office to another time zone at three in the morning. This has to be deliberate. We have to put talking, listening, and responding to our own needs at the top of our agendas.
Crying It Out
Crying has universal resonance among activists.
Hope Chigudu, a Zimbabwean activist, pointed out that one group who works on HIV/AIDS issues has a “crying room” to help its members deal with the tragedy and horrors they view every day. And, in our work, we see a lot of tragedy.
I am reminded of Barbara Bangura, a Sierra Leonean activist who worked with women who had been captured and enslaved by rebel soldiers during the decade-long civil war. When we met in her crowded offices, I was struck by her composure. What did it take to maintain serenity when surrounded by so much pain and sadness?
Barbara told me that usually she manages, but that there are stories that she just can’t shake. Every activist has these stories—those that seep, unexpectedly, into every aspect of our lives, haunting our dreams. These are the stories that drive us to the brink of despair, that leave us asking, “Why is this happening?”
We need to feel these stories, to take time to reflect on the gravity of the situations we are facing. These are the times when we allow ourselves to feel and release, to share in the sorrow.
Feeding the Soul
Spirituality, in its many forms, sustains many of us. Let’s get the “S” word out of the closet and talk openly about how to embrace what works and how to put aside the rest. For some, there is no name for this form of renewal; it is simply as natural as embracing the elements or digging bare hands into the earth to help create life. Spirituality takes us back to our deepest beliefs and values, to the source of our passion and commitment. For many, it can be the key to sustaining ourselves as activists. Because, as Margaret Schink, a US-based activist and one of the founders of Urgent Action Fund, says, “We’ll never have peace unless people have peace within themselves. To really bring about significant change, people have to go within themselves and find peace.”
It’s controversial, and deeply personal, and that can make it difficult to talk about. But the majority of the activists I interviewed practiced some kind of spirituality that kept them going—from walking in the woods to Buddhist meditation. Spiritual practices can help us make sense of the things going on around us. They can help us return to loving the world and loving ourselves. Making a practice of validating and affirming our spirituality can rejuvenate our work. . . .