In this guide, we we explain why wellbeing is an important part of activism.
Who should read this?
We recommend all activist movements to implement the wellbeing practices discussed in this chater. Even if you are not dealing with mental health issues yourself right now, this is a must read. In our chapter, we focus on things you can do as a group, instead of steps that you can take as an individual. Implementing wellbeing practices will make your activist group more inclusive and promotes a healthy environment.
While this article is important for everyone, the following activists will especially benefit from these wellbeing tips:
People new to activism: Every activist has a first protest that they attend. This can be a scary experience. You might be in a big crowd without anyone you know, doing things you would not usually do. In other words: you are very much out of your comfort zone.
Marginalised activists: If you are at a disadvantage in society, you will also come across more difficulties in your activism, which might impact your wellbeing. For example, if you are a black impoverished woman, you might get treated worse by police at a protest than if you are a white cis man. You might also have difficulty making ends meet, which means that you do not have the time or money to travel to a protest action. And as a woman, you may have been told by society that your voice matters less, so you might find it challenging to speak up for your rights.
Activists that use civil disobedience: Using civil disobedience as an activist tactic is often out of necessity. Stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something you are not supposed to do (and being frowned upon by bystanders, friends and family), can impact your wellbeing. In addition, it is likely that you will have to deal with law enforcement using violence against you to stop you from breaking the law. This may impact both your physical and mental health.
Activists fighting big, urgent, issues: If you are a parent fighting for a speed bump in your street to make it safer for playing children, it might be very challenging to get the municipality to listen to you, but not impossible. However, if you are fighting for a more complex issue such as the climate crisis, it might be much harder to achieve tangible results. You might be fighting your whole life without seeing the results of your hard work. This can be very frustrating, especially with such an urgent matter as the climate crisis. The feeling of powerlessness can have a significant impact on your wellbeing.
Why is wellbeing important?
You might think that your cause is more important than your own wellbeing. For example, you might spend a lot of time preparing for a protest, even though you feel like you are about to fall into a burnout. Sacrificing your wellbeing and that of your fellow activists for your cause is (1) not an effective strategy and (2) not the morally right thing to do.
In it for the long run
Many activist causes require us to continue putting in our energy over longer periods of time. You will likely not achieve your goals after organising one protest. This does not mean that your actions are worthless, it just means that you have to prepare yourself for a long fight.
Try to find ways of doing activism that allow you to recharge and regenerate energy, so you can keep fighting for longer. You will also find that other people are more willing to join your group, if you respect their wellbeing. People who do not want to sacrifice their wellbeing for a cause are not selfish, they respect their own boundaries and act strategically.
Working yourself into a burnout organising just one action is like using all your time in a chess game for your first move.
Take care of yourself
Ask yourself: what are you fighting for exactly? We live in a world filled with injustice. You might care a lot about one specific thing, because caring about everything would be too overwhelming. But in order to be effective as activists, we must be able to take a step back and see how our actions fit into all the hard work that other activists are doing.
All the injustices in the world are connected. We call this intersectionality. For example, an oil drilling company might care more about profit than protecting the earth. In the same way, your employer might find making a profit more important than providing its employees with job security. Both are part of a society that only values money.
So what does this have to do with wellbeing in activism? The same injustices that exist in society are also present in our activism. We live in a world where we squeeze as much economic productivity out of people as possible, and then we toss them away like garbage. If we fight for our causes in ways that burn us out, we are continuing those same toxic habits. Let’s build a healthier society by starting with ourselves and the people around us.
Taking care of yourself and your fellow activists is a big fuck you to the unjust systems of oppression and exploitation that we are fighting against.