i used to be an activist: another piece of myself has gone missing. or maybe it's on hiatus.

In my experience, the best activism begins like this.

I used to be an activist.

Not being actively involved in a grassroots movement, a part of myself is lost. It's an intentional choice, given the realities that I cannot change. It's what I need. But it's a loss. There's a part of my life that I truly miss.

My purpose and meaning

I've been an activist my entire life. 

I would usually focus on one issue, and explore what I could do within it. South Africa apartheid. Reproductive rights. Violence against women. At-risk youth. Abortion access. US war resisters in Canada. Labour. Each of these, for a time, was a central focus of my life. What gave my life meaning and purpose.

Writing was also part of this. At its best, when I could snag the opportunity, my writing was advocacy. And it certainly was my meaning and purpose. But my activism was in its own sphere. 

When I first became active, I was not a leader. I wasn't even much of a joiner! I wasn't comfortable in group settings; I hadn't found my niche. Realizing my potential as a leader, and becoming comfortable within activist spaces, were big areas of personal growth.

I quickly realized I wanted to work in the grassroots. A group of like-minded people, drawn together by a shared purpose, figuring out a way forward, planning actions, creating opportunities for others to get involved. 

My areas of focus developed organically, expressions of what was important to me, what was most on my mind. I took breaks between issues. I chose what to do next and it chose me.

Throughout most of this time, I didn't work full-time. I was more than full-time busy, but I could cycle through my writing, my various day-jobs, my friends and relationships, and my activism. 

It broke down, and I almost broke down with it

When I became a local union leader, I was also working full-time. This was a big adjustment; more than that, it was unsustainable. I have a chronic health condition, and it was -- to use the common euphemism -- extremely challenging to take care of my health while working and unioning. 

I did that for five years. I have no regrets -- I think back on that time with great pride and joy -- but it took a great toll. Before we decided to move to BC, I had already decided not to run for re-election, and to take a less intensive role in the local.

After we moved, my new local union was led by a group of super smart, talented, badass leaders. I knew I would be active, but I also wanted to put strict limits on my involvement. Now I'm a steward, and a member of my local executive. I was on the last bargaining committee, and I would like to be on the next one. Union is an important part of my life -- I love knowing and working with union people -- but it's well contained.

So here I am

My current work is very challenging and demanding. I love it, but it's full-on. When I'm not working, I very much want a quiet, focused life, and I've committed to that. Reading, writing, cooking, walking. Solo pursuits like working on a puzzle or practicing piano. Time with friends and family. When possible, some travel.  

That I can even talk about this is a sign of my great privilege. It's no accident that most people cannot be active in issues they care about. Our society -- the economic system -- is structured in a way that keeps us busy, too busy to question and work on dismantling the system itself. Full-time work, or more likely, multiple part-time jobs, leaves little enough time for the demands of family, and even basic pleasures, never mind changing the world. For millions who also live with chronic illness -- often linked to trauma -- accomplishing just the basics is a huge undertaking.

And it just gets harder all the time. As capitalism continues its death spiral, the cost of living rises, supports shrink, and life just gets harder. Food insecurity is on the rise. More seniors are living in poverty. These statistics are always lower than reality, defining poverty too low, and not measuring hidden poverty. People choosing between eating and staying warm. Parents skipping meals so their children can eat. Seniors caught shoplifting food. Tiny increases in benefits don't even approach the rising cost of living. More people starve, and freeze, or barely scrape by. 

That we can even talk about this in a nation as wealthy as Canada is a disgrace. And it is completely preventable. Meanwhile, profits soar.

What I'd be doing, if I could 

There are two issues right now that I'd like to be more active in: the movement against Israeli apartheid, and end-of-life choice. But when I think about how I might do that, it breaks down. 

I write letters, I sign petitions, I stay informed. But I'm not out there trying to get others to write letters or meet with their MPs. I'm not organizing, I'm not leading.

Recently my MP had a petition, focusing on a way to remove more harmful waste from the ocean, and an important step for coastal communities like mine. I thought I would solicit signatures in my town. I wanted to... and I never did. 

I joined Labour for Palestine and have attended a few meetings, but I couldn't follow through. 

Dying With Dignity Canada suggests many ways to get involved, but I haven't taken the first step.

I never adopted the language of spoon theory, because I had these ideas decades before the term was coined and popularized. But no matter how we visualize it, time and energy are finite. Health comes first.

It's not only health. I want a quieter, more focused life. A life with more white space on my calendar. In this sense, what I want and what I need align.

Maybe tomorrow, maybe some day

If I'm lucky enough to stay alive and healthy and mobile past retirement, perhaps I'll find my way back to activism.

I have similar thoughts on travel. I don't know if or when we will travel again, other than for family visits. Now in our early 60s, we know our priority must be putting ourselves in the best position for a semi-comfortable retirement, or at least a retirement without poverty. 

I know this, yet travel nags at me. It's not just something I love: it's who I am. Not traveling is giving up a part of myself.

The same is true for activism. My work adds value to the community. I am involved in advocacy -- for my community, and for library workers. Perhaps that is a form of activism, but I miss the grassroots. 

This is my choice, and it isn't. I'm choosing to be more mindful of my health, to not burn out. I didn't choose the conditions that make that necessary. 

Everything in life is a trade-off. Every choice brings both opportunity and loss. I'm truly happy with my life now. And these pieces of myself are left behind.

I'm not fishing for validation or approval. Just putting this out there.


Some related reading:

"I used to be an activist." by Daniel Giles Helm.

My first activist step, by Nicole Bedford

I'm a "spoonie": here's what I wish more people knew about chronic illness, by Kirsten Schultz 

The original spoon theory post by Christine Miserandino


Lorne said...

I always enjoy reading your blog, even though I seldom comment. I think that in life, there is an ebb and a flow, and we need to regularly reassess. That you still have passion for the things you articulate speaks well of you; it is when people just turn their backs entirely on life and issues that one needs to worry.

You will find your balance, and, of course, your first commitment must always be to yourself and your loved ones.

laura k said...

Thank you Lorne -- for reading and for your comments when you are moved to do so. I appreciate your support.

With God's Help said...

I try to remind myself that there is a season for everything. You have given a lot when you could and I hope you don't feel any guilt about taking care of other aspects of your life.

laura k said...

Thank you WGH. I'm not entirely comfortable with it. Little feelings percolate under the surface -- doubt and guilt.

One thing I recently thought of: my new lifestyle has given me a lot of insight into why more people don't get involved as volunteers or activists.