“Activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the unknown. The future is always dark.”
— Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark.
This election, this time. So many of us are surfing between despair and determination, navigating how to help, grieve, get out of the way, get in the way.
The ground shifts and the old tools seem small. Where writing has helped me make sense of things in the past, “making sense” now feels like the wrong frame. Instead, I’m thinking about movements. The kind we make with our bodies, and the ways we move as a collective, mobilizing towards change.
At my wedding, nearly ten years back, I watched my cousin – 20 years old, visiting from Sweden, lanky, towering and fine-boned – step onto a dance floor for the first time. She looked around at all the others, twisting and turning to the music, and… started jumping. Feet together, arms at her side, sailing above the crowd, great unstoppable pogo stick bounds. She danced like this for hours. It was like nothing I’d ever seen, both discovery and arrival. Her face beamed.
My cousin did not wait for instructions, wade into Facebook arguments, wring her hands on the side. I’m in danger of stretching this parable too far, but she was teaching something big: When the music compels you, just go.
If we are committed to movement, we need to move. And rarely are new movements graceful. They are bumbling and unfamiliar and create something we haven’t seen before. We don’t need to wait until we figure it out before we act.
If we’re stepping into the terrain of social movements, our missteps can be particularly uncomfortable. We’ll screw up in small and large ways and if we’re lucky these mistakes will be brought to our attention. And hopefully, we’ll listen. We’ll listen like children do, not holding the cloak of our egos against us for protection, but letting it in. Trying again. We have to get out on the floor.
What that floor looks like depends on who we are. I’m deeply inspired by what I see around me: healer friends offering sessions by donation, business owners offering profits to the ACLU, people organizing in kitchens and city halls, teachers standing up for the safety of their students.
I don’t know that it’s going to be okay. But a few questions are helping guide me anyhow:
- Where do I spend (and not spend) my money to align with what I value?
- How and where will I gather with other bodies to organize, plot, subvert, protect, create?
- How can I leverage my privilege in places where it matters?
- How do I self-correct, learn, go deeper, and account for my mistakes?
- How will I listen?
- How will I keep myself resourced and grounded so I can keep doing this work?
There is so much good material out there on what we can do. For a start, I’ll be donating a portion of my December earnings toward the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project and our local Planned Parenthood chapter. I’ll be walking, gathering, and listening, and then I’ll try something different.