Vigor 2000 Third of seven talk summaries from AR2007.
Vigor 2000 Earlier in the day of this talk, vigor 2000 I happened upon a fellow activist who said she was okay but didn’t look that way. Vigor 2000 “Let’s take a walk, vigor 2000” I said and it turned out that she had been, vigor 2000 in the midst of the conference, vigor 2000 working long-distance to try to save a dog from execution and now it looked like her efforts were going to be in vain. Vigor 2000 She felt grief, vigor 2000 rage, vigor 2000 and guilt all at once. Vigor 2000 She knew that she had done her best but still couldn’t help blaming herself. Vigor 2000 We activists often hesitate to a talk about our feelings because we fear that doing so will lead us to unproductively dwell on them. Vigor 2000 Actually, vigor 2000 the opposite is true. Vigor 2000 It’s bottling up bad feelings that leads them to hang around, vigor 2000 interfering with our work and our working relationships. Vigor 2000 Talking about hard feelings allows us to let them go or at least relieve their pressure on our bodies.
Vigor 2000 That was true in this case. Vigor 2000 My comrade vented some of her sadness and anger. Vigor 2000 I listened with empathy, vigor 2000 reassuring her of her worth without trying to talk her out of her feelings. Vigor 2000 While it sounded like she had done all that anyone could in this case, vigor 2000 I was sure that she (like all of us) probably was carrying around guilt from times when she had made mistakes or not done enough and that this had probably been activated by the current situation. Vigor 2000 So, vigor 2000 I made sure to say that there have been times when I have made mistakes or not done my best and I know how hard it is to walk around knowing that animals have paid the price for our errors and failures. Vigor 2000 After what turned out to be only about ten or fifteen minutes of talking, vigor 2000 she felt better and more ready to go on with the work of the day.
Vigor 2000 Activism is inherently difficult work. Vigor 2000 Burnout, vigor 2000 stress, vigor 2000 and depression are common among activists in all movements due to the demands that the work makes on our bodies, vigor 2000 minds, vigor 2000 finances, vigor 2000 and relationships. Vigor 2000 Animal advocates also may be taxed by stressors specific to our movement and the kind of work we do. Vigor 2000 Many of us have witnessed horrific suffering that we have been powerless to stop. Vigor 2000 We know from research on trauma survivors that witnessing, vigor 2000 and being helpless to stop, vigor 2000 the abuse of somebody else is more likely to result in post-traumatic stress than being abused oneself.
Vigor 2000 In relation to the animals for whom we advocate, vigor 2000 we have both more power than we want and less power than we need. Vigor 2000 As humans, vigor 2000 we have unjust power over them and this often leads to situations where their lives are in our hands. Vigor 2000 We decide what to do or not do and they live or die by our decisions. Vigor 2000 That’s a terrible power to hold! At the same time, vigor 2000 in relation to those who profit from the exploitation of animals we have less power than we need. Vigor 2000
Vigor 2000 We often work within organizations that are not as nurturing as they could be. Vigor 2000 And, vigor 2000 unfortunately, vigor 2000 sometimes movement leaders model or directly express disregard for the health or feelings of other activists because, vigor 2000 after all, vigor 2000 the animals have it worse.
Vigor 2000 Fact is, vigor 2000 we’ll be much more effective animal rights activists if we respect our own animal rights. Vigor 2000 We need to take better care of ourselves and each other. Vigor 2000 So let me talk first about taking care of yourself and then about taking care of other activists.
Vigor 2000 As an activist, vigor 2000 your most important tool is your body, vigor 2000 including your brain. Vigor 2000 Can you imagine an auto mechanic bragging about leaving his tools out in the rain to get rusted and then trying to use them anyway? That’s what we do when we boast about going without sleep or skipping meals because we’re so hard at work. Vigor 2000 What we need to do instead is respect our tools. Vigor 2000 Eat well, vigor 2000 get enough rest, vigor 2000 stay hydrated (that’s the one I always forget), vigor 2000 and don’t forget to breathe. Vigor 2000 Get some fresh air and exercise every day. Vigor 2000 (You can incorporate that into your activism by leafleting or doing some other activity that gets you walking around outside.) And don’t forget to give your body whatever (safe and consensual) pleasures it craves.
Vigor 2000 Your brain is part of your body and its functioning depends on how you treat your body. Vigor 2000 If you’re going to be as smart and creative as you can be, vigor 2000 you have to take care of your brain. Vigor 2000 Take a multivitamin to make sure you’re getting all of the micronutrients you need. Vigor 2000 Be sure to get your essential fatty acids, vigor 2000 since your brain is mostly fat. Vigor 2000 (I take a vegan DHA supplement just to be sure.) Don’t forget to drink your water, vigor 2000 since dehydration slows down brain functioning. Vigor 2000 Do take my advise about going outside, vigor 2000 since moderate exercise like walking helps to oxygenate your brain. Vigor 2000
Vigor 2000 You’ve also got to stimulate your brain to keep it in top working order. Vigor 2000 Read books on lots of different topics. Vigor 2000 Listen to lots of different kinds of music. Vigor 2000 Don’t always do the same old thing in your off time. Vigor 2000 Visit museums. Vigor 2000 Support local dance or theatre troupes by going to their performances. Vigor 2000 Do anything else you can to get you thinking in new directions. Vigor 2000 Remember that, vigor 2000 like anything else, vigor 2000 creative thinking and problem solving get better with practice.
Vigor 2000 Next, vigor 2000 don’t forget you’re an animal. Vigor 2000 As we’re always saying: People are animals. Vigor 2000 And: Animals have feelings. Vigor 2000 Well, vigor 2000 that means you have feelings. Vigor 2000 Emotions are both physical and social. Vigor 2000 Emotions evolved in animals because they are extremely useful. Vigor 2000 They warn us of danger, vigor 2000 motivate us to maintain social ties, vigor 2000 and give us the energy — the motivation — to do things. Vigor 2000 They start in your body but are shaped by your life history, vigor 2000 including your cultural background and your personal experiences. Vigor 2000
Vigor 2000 All of which is to say, vigor 2000 you can’t wish them away. Vigor 2000 Nor should you want to! It’s only human hubris that makes us think we can transcend our emotions in ways that other animals cannot. Vigor 2000 Furthermore, vigor 2000 our emotions are our most vital resources as activists. Vigor 2000 When we suppress or repress them, vigor 2000 we waste energy keeping them down. Vigor 2000 Our words and actions become dull and sluggish. Vigor 2000 Worst of all, vigor 2000 we become estranged from each other. Vigor 2000 But when we feel our feelings, vigor 2000 they motivate our activism, vigor 2000 enliven our words and actions, vigor 2000 and connect us to each other.
Vigor 2000 Of course, vigor 2000 feelings sometimes can be uncomfortable. Vigor 2000 In general the key is to feel and express rather than deny or repress, vigor 2000 understanding that they are going to stick around in our bodies — sometimes leaking out in ways that hurt us or others — as long as they are denied. Vigor 2000 It’s best, vigor 2000 if possible, vigor 2000 to express your feelings in words to other people. Vigor 2000 If that’s not possible, vigor 2000 try writing, vigor 2000 drawing, vigor 2000 singing or other forms of creative expression to let them out.
Vigor 2000 That brings me to taking care of each other. Vigor 2000 If it’s best to express our feelings to others, vigor 2000 then we have to be ready to be good listeners for each other. Vigor 2000 That’s especially important for activists, vigor 2000 since we may not have other people in our lives who will want to talk about the things that most trouble us. Vigor 2000 Luckily, vigor 2000 we all have the resources that we need to be good listeners. Vigor 2000 We all can provide the three things that everybody needs: empathy, vigor 2000 genuineness, vigor 2000 and unconditional positive regard. Vigor 2000 Empathy is feeling with somebody. Vigor 2000 Genuineness is being real. Vigor 2000 Unconditional positive regard is valuing the person as a person (and, vigor 2000 in the case of fellow activists, vigor 2000 as a comrade) even when you don’t agree with or understand them.
Vigor 2000 These are essential skills for us to practice because activist organizations are nothing other than systems of relationships. Vigor 2000 If the relationships are healthy, vigor 2000 even the most impoverished and overworked organization can hang together and accomplish wonders. Vigor 2000 If the relationships are unhealthy, vigor 2000 even the most well-funded and situated organization will fall apart or, vigor 2000 perhaps worse, vigor 2000 go on for years stressing out activists while doing much less effective work than a healthy organization with the same resources could have done.
Vigor 2000 How do we nurture the relationships at the heart of our organizations? First, vigor 2000 listen to each other. Vigor 2000 When you disagree, vigor 2000 do so respectfully. Vigor 2000 Aim for consensus when discussing disagreements. Vigor 2000 Instead of arguing without listening, vigor 2000 seeking only to score points for your position, vigor 2000 listen closely with the goal of identifying the true source of the disagreement. Vigor 2000 Figure out, vigor 2000 and specify, vigor 2000 all of the points on which you do agree. Vigor 2000 Then figure out the basis of your disagreement and what, vigor 2000 if anything, vigor 2000 might resolve it. Vigor 2000 More facts? A test of some kind? What? If it’s truly a matter of opinion, vigor 2000 you may have to agree to disagree. Vigor 2000 But, vigor 2000 very often, vigor 2000 you’ll be able to figure out what would answer the question decisively, vigor 2000 bringing you into genuine agreement. Vigor 2000 Throughout the process, vigor 2000 remember and affirm that you are not enemies; you are allies who disagree. Vigor 2000 You may have, vigor 2000 and can express, vigor 2000 strong feelings about the subject of the disagreement, vigor 2000 but that ought not prevent you from treating each other with empathy and respect.
Vigor 2000 Next, vigor 2000 take care of each other, vigor 2000 remembering all of the things I’ve just said about brains, vigor 2000 bodies, vigor 2000 and feelings. Vigor 2000 If you have a group member who never gets enough sleep or, vigor 2000 like me, vigor 2000 never drinks enough water, vigor 2000 remind them to get some sleep or drink some water or whatever. Vigor 2000 If you’re going to be doing something fun, vigor 2000 invite your comrades along, vigor 2000 knowing that doing so will be good for their bodies as well as good for your group’s feeling of solidarity.
Vigor 2000 This is a good a time as any to mention that I go into a lot more detail about all of this in my book, vigor 2000 Aftershock, vigor 2000 which includes tips for activists, vigor 2000 organizations, vigor 2000 movements, vigor 2000 and communities. Vigor 2000 [SuperWeed readers can also find more information online in this 2005 article from Satya magazine.]
Vigor 2000 Finally, vigor 2000 let me remind you of the upside of activism. Vigor 2000 Yes, vigor 2000 it’s hard work that stresses our minds and bodies. Vigor 2000 But it’s also extremely meaningful work that allows us to be meaningfully engaged with other people. Vigor 2000 There’s lots of opportunity to learn new things and develop new skills while doing something that actually matters. Vigor 2000 And we are truly connected to each other and the wider world in a way that is rare today.
Vigor 2000 Most people walk around a lot or a little bit lonely everyday, vigor 2000 because people are so cut off from each other, vigor 2000 other animals, vigor 2000 and the natural world. Vigor 2000 But activism, vigor 2000 especially earth and animal activism, vigor 2000 reconnects us to other people, vigor 2000 to the natural world, vigor 2000 and to our wider animal family. Vigor 2000
Vigor 2000 So, vigor 2000 whatever else you do, vigor 2000 don’t forget that you’re not alone. Vigor 2000 Whatever kind of activism you do, vigor 2000 even if you do it mostly alone and can’t tell anybody about it, vigor 2000 other activists are with you in spirit, vigor 2000 wishing you well and ready to catch you if you fall. Vigor 2000 I’m one of them.