Resilience for the Resistance: Ways to Build a Stronger Union (of Activists)

Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent. ~Marilyn vos Savant

Two weeks ago I sent out an e-mail to newsletter subscribers asking how everyone was feeling post-Ossoff.

I was blown away by the response.

Friends – thank you for your candor, and for your willingness to share your stories.

I have had some wonderful conversations with you all – and although a lot of themes emerged, one of the most important and urgent was self-care. Specifically, how do you care for your physical and mental wellbeing when every day a new fresh hell awaits? It’s overwhelming, and sometimes demoralizing, and it starts to feel like we’ll never be able to do enough.

I can relate.

So today we’re going to talk exclusively about creating a Resilient Resistance.

Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.”

Basically, the resilience of a system – like this activist movement – is its ability to bounce back.

I think we can all agree that our resilience has been tested a lot more than anyone expected.

We are at one of the most difficult and historic times in our nation’s history. That’s not hyperbole. History books (if they aren’t all burned) will describe this time in our lives with fiery adjectives and a lot of pictures of pissed off women in pussy hats.

So it’s okay to be off balance and a little confused and wondering HOW THE HELL WE GOT HERE.

But part of being healthy individually and collectively is fostering our ability to bounce back. How do we do that? By doing things that will promote our own mental health – but that will also support the broader community that we are part of.

1. Understand Your Unique Place in an Historic Movement

Fundamentally, know that you are part of a “system” – or a community of folks that are acting together. Systems theory recognizes that relationships and systems are entities on their own. You have your own identity, I have my own identity, but the Resistance? Well – it has its own identity, too.

To give you a gardening analogy – if the Resistance were a farm, we would be the crops. There are all kinds of crops at our farm – rutabagas, basil, beets, tomatoes – you name it. Are there individual plants? Sure. But they are part of the larger farm. And the farm itself has values and goals that each of the plants supports. Maybe its goals are providing local produce to families, using organic practices, making a profit, beautifying the landscape – you get the picture. Each of us plants works toward that larger goal, but we have our own too. And each is different.

You would not treat a tomato and beets the same, would you? Probably not. Beets need things tomatoes don’t, and vice versa.

The thing is – the farm needs both the beets and the tomatoes to be successful.

So the first part of building a more resilient self and movement is to recognize your role within this larger system – and see that your personal wellbeing directly impacts the health of the Resistance. Caring for yourself is actually caring for all of us.

Essentially, you need to feed and water yourself to keep the farm chugging along.

You already do this instinctively – at least under normal circumstances. But maybe you’re the type of person who tends to push through ’til “the end.” But here’s the problem – we don’t know when “the end” will be. So you’re not pushing to the next semester, or the next fiscal quarter, or until that case goes to trial. You might be pushing for years. (Maybe four years. Gah.) So do the things that the self-care experts suggest.

This leads directly to…

2. Recognize the Power of a Breath (or a Nap)

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes. Including you. ~Anne Lamott

Okay, so here’s the place where we talk about your need to care for your physical/mental health, and to listen to your own body and mind. You are the very best expert about you. So you know what works best to rejuvenate you. Getting good sleep, eating well, exercising, getting together with friends, unplugging for a few days, limiting your time with social media, getting out in nature – these are all common suggestions for things you can do to promote self-care in your own life.

But I repeat: you know you better than anyone else.

So, unfortunately, while I can give you suggestions I can’t tell you exactly what to do here. Trust me – that is as unsatisfying to write as I’m sure it is to read. But while I can’t tell you exactly what will work for you, I can point you to a few different resources that I think will be helpful.

First, here’s a great interactive questionnaire that helps you pinpoint what feels off. It’s also got a catchy name: You Feel Like Shit. An Interactive Self-Care Guide.

I mean, seriously. How perfect is that? Bonus points for humor.

Second, the University of Buffalo’s School of Social Work has a treasure trove of resources – worksheets and assessments that you can take to help you better understand what your own personal self-care system would look like.

And once you’ve made your self-care plan, please – put activities that will rejuvenate you in your calendar in ink. Make your mental and physical wellbeing your number one priority.

3. Create Your Own Interpersonal Support System.

So now we understand that we are part of a bigger movement, and that we need to care for ourselves. What else can we do to promote a resilient self and movement?

Foster your social support system.

Social isolation is one of the biggest health challenges that we face, according to the Surgeon General that was abruptly fired by Trump (so we know he must know a thing or two). And “[r]esearch suggests that the single most powerful predictor of human resilience is interpersonal support.”

So interpersonal support promotes resilience – but we’re in an era of social isolation. Ugh. What can we do about this?

Well, for starters, start meeting people face-to-face. Social media is wonderful, but also isolating in its own electric way. Work within your social spheres to find people that support you – and who validate what you’re feeling – and then find a regular time to meet with them. It’s not a waste of time to get together with friends for a coffee and kvetching session. Actually, it’s healthy.

Also, for the groups that you’re part of: attend meetings. I know, I know. Schedules get in the way and you might have a lot on your calendar already. But that in-person support and validation is really valuable. If you can, try to make time.

And if you’re a group leader, leaving time before or after meetings for people to just talk and get to know one another is important. The folks that want and need that social stimulation will get a lot of energy from those interactions.

You can also volunteer – whether for a campaign or a local organization or non-profit. Finding a group of people that support something you believe in too means you’re already starting from a common interest.

4. Use Humor as a Shield … and a Sword

“If you aren’t having fun, you aren’t doing it right.” ~Prof. Greg Scott

“To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it.” ~Charlie Chapman

Humor is powerful – and can help you survive this administration with your sanity intact. Use it early and often.

There are numerous studies of the power of humor as a “shield” against negative life events – maybe because it’s just so wonderful that having a good sense of humor promotes personal resilience.

People with higher levels of “coping humor” have greater resilience; in one study they “showed little or no increase in negative mood when their number of negative life events increased”. Those with lower levels of coping humor, however, had a marked increase in negative mood. Another study showed that end-stage renal disease patients with a greater sense of humor had a 31% higher survival rate. And humor alleviates tension and encourages social support – a double benefit of sorts.

And – most inspirationally – using a strong social support system and humor helped hundreds of US soldiers held as POWs during the Vietnam War not only survive their captivity – but to rebel in ways no other POW group had ever done.

Why did those POWs believe humor was so important? Because it gave them control. Even when their physical situation was entirely out of their control, they took control over their reaction and perspective – and humor played a huge role in that.

As an added bonus, “[a]uthoritarianism is directly incompatible with collective joy; it demands fear, obedience, hierarchy and an obsession with security and preparation for war.” Who would have thought that having fun would be subversive?

So there’s no reason we can’t enjoy ourselves while we’re doing this important and serious work.

But humor can be a sword, too. It’s darned effective at drawing attention to serious subjects in a way that feels approachable. Knitting uteri, glitter bombing (OMG glitter gets into every nook and cranny and is impossible to remove… Moms, am I right?), proposing legislation declaring that life begins at ejaculation, the hilarious signs we’ve all seen at marches across the country – these are all ways activists have used humor to draw attention to important issues and to have a good giggle in the meantime.

So beyond posting tongue-in-cheek comments on your favorite GOP legislator’s page, let your imagination run wild with the ways you can have fun while making your point. Here are some ideas you can riff off of:

  • If you’re a business owner, consider creating your version of a “covfefe” party: A D.C. bar offered free drinks anytime Trump tweeted during Comey’s testimony. Another bar operated under a pseudonym “Unpresidented” January 17-21, and served cocktails with Russian Standard vodka.
  • Take a play from the Center for American Progress’s playbook and encourage your fellow resisters to raid their medicine cabinets for used pill bottles. Write messages about the importance of saving health care in each one, and deliver them to your Senator. (Take pictures!)
  • Heading to a protest? Ask someone to bring a guitar. I’ve always wanted to serenade my Senator, and maybe we can make that a thing. (Here’s a good list of songs about health to get your playlist started.)
  • Single and ready to mingle? Start getting your single activists friends together for a night together doing something – related to activism or not.
  • Start your own Drinking Liberally group (alcoholic or coffee – either works!); when you’re all together you can Resistbot a common message or call your legislators. Or, you could just hang out.
  • Have contests to encourage action among your friends (like bingo!)

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Clearly these are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. But again – the broader point is clear: humor is a powerful tool to help you survive this administration with your sanity.

5. Reject Binary Helpless-Hopeless Thinking

There’s so much to do – so much to protect and to preserve – that sometimes it might feel hard to believe that we’ll make a difference. That helpless/hopeless feeling can spiral into believing that nothing we do matters – which can result in inaction, pessimism, and depression.

That sort of “all-or-nothing” thinking is just not productive.

When you feel yourself going down that path (“it doesn’t matter if I call today – nothing will change his mind”) try to remind yourself of our first principle – that you are part of a system. You are part of a movement that’s bigger than you, but that depends upon you.

In fact, it’s because of the power of the small actions (*ahem* “small deeds”) that you take daily we have been so successful this far.

Case in point: If every person who gets this e-mail spends just five minutes talking to a staffer at his or her Senator’s office, we’d tie up that office for weeks.

Will that change a Senator’s mind? Maybe. Maybe not. But just because their vote didn’t change doesn’t mean they are unaffected by hearing about the crush of calls. And imagine being a staffer in their offices! Would it impact you to hear call after call, day after day, of people who are going to be hurt by a bill your boss is planning to vote for? (And remember – you never know who you are inspiring.)

So the next time you feel yourself saying “it’s not going to matter” recognize what’s going on, so that you can pull yourself out of it.

6. Share Your Unique Talents 

You are a unique and essential part of this historic movement – and you have a wonderful opportunity to share your special skills with the rest of us. Not only does this promote interpersonal connection/support systems, it promotes creativity – which is great for problem solving.

For those of you who are saying “I don’t have a special skill” – I say poppycock.

Of course you do.

  • Are you whiz-bang at organization? Ask to help organize information about upcoming candidates so the group will know who is who.
  • Are you a therapist? Host a talk about self-care and burnout, or open one hour per week for a group session of activists.
  • Are you versed in photoshop? Those memes come from somewhere – let your imagination run wild!
  • Do you play guitar and sing? Then serenade your Senator! (Can you tell I want to make this happen?)
  • Are you a yoga instructor/aficionado? Host a yoga class specifically for activists. Or consider a donation class – and support local activist needs.
  • Do you make a mean pie? Bring one to your next meeting or protest. Trust me – everyone will love that. (Make sure to save a slice for me!)

Truly, there are limitless opportunities for you to contribute to your activist community in your personal special way. When you’ve found yours – shoot me an e-mail and let me know what you’re doing! I love to hear your stories.

***

So, there you have it. Six ways to promote a more resilient self – and a more resilient community of activists. I hope this helps you understand our movement – and how by promoting your personal health, your own support systems, your own sense of humor, and your own unique talents – you create a more Resilient Resistance.

Now – let’s get to work.

Actions:

Once again, this week’s actions are all about healthcare – because if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.

Wednesday: Share Your Story at Our Lives, Our Stories

We all have a healthcare story to tell – so share yours! Head over to https://ourlivesourstories.com, which is a project of the Center for American Progress. There, you can write your personal story and read stories from fellow Americans that oppose this cruel bill. Stories from that site have been picked up by news outlets and amplified.

You can also tweet your story to @ourlives:

You can even add your own Protect Our Care “twibbon” to your Facebook profile picture!

Thursday: Keep those calls coming!

Once again, it’s imperative that we use the power of our numbers – and our phones – to keep up the pressure. This week, keep making calls to district offices and explain the impact that the repeal of the ACA would have on you and your loved ones.

You can even make it easy on yourself and use the same story that you shared on Our Lives.

Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling because without the ACA, [insert personal story here]. The bill that’s under consideration is bad for women, bad for children, bad for families – it’s bad for everyone. What is the Senator’s position on this bill?

Friday: Amplify the healthcare message with Indivisible Data’s resources – and take five minutes to create your self-care plan

Indivisible Data Sharing: The folks at Indivisible Data have created more wonderful state-specific shareable healthcare graphics. Behold:

Head over to their Twitter feed to find your state and retweet their graphic. Let’s keep this message going via land, postcards sea phone calls and air social media!

Self Care: Okay, friend. We talked about creating a resilient movement today, and that starts with you.

Take five minutes today and take the interactive quiz we talked about in the pep talk, or just go straight to the University of Buffalo’s self-care resources. Either way, you’ll emerge from this exercise with a better sense of what you personally need to do to keep yourself going when things go wonky.


Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. We’re in this together.

If you want one more quick action, send this pep talk to a friend or two!

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here!

Lastly, if you’d like to support this work, you can become a Patreon patron here.

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