In March, I serendipitously stumbled across a tweet that invigorated me to “keep on keeping on.” It was “an activist’s prayer,” by community organizer Terrance Hawkins: “Thicken my love. Widen my heart. Sharpen my analysis. Enliven my praxis. Embolden my voice. Deepen my rest. Lighten my heaviness. Toughen my skin. Soften my spirit. Strengthen my friendships. Lengthen my endurance. Weaken my ego. Awaken my soul.”
Bizarrely enough, today’s global uprising against white supremacy had yet to coalesce and further intensify pandemic-related stress.
Tony McDade, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Regis Korchinski-Paquet were not yet hashtags.
Back then, every breaking news headline reported an escalating death toll from coronavirus. Rapidly changing guidelines exacerbated the constant flux, forcing hasty adjustment to contagion anxiety, financial precarity, loneliness, scarcity and the unorthodox landscape of virtual employment, school and even funerals.
This backdrop of powerlessness and societal upheaval set the stage for this moment’s unprecedented solidarity against authoritarianism and domination.
Fast-forward to the week of May 25, when footage of George Floyd’s killing in police custody exposed yet another institution unabashedly devaluing and endangering human life, particularly black lives. By then, structural racism had ravaged black communities twice over — first, with covid-19’s disproportionate impact, and then with more killings at the hand of police. A significant proportion of white Americans, also primed with disillusionment, finally recognized racialized police violence for what it is.
Cue moral outrage.
Yet, the moment leaves us with complex questions about healing, like how do we recover psychologically, while maintaining our stamina? The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted 382 days; the Greensboro sit-ins, six months; the Freedom Rides, seven months; the Birmingham movement, 37 days. For those who wish to advocate for equity — but perhaps already feel too demoralized to do so effectively — I recommend the following tips.
It is perfectly normal to want change but also chronically fatigued, irritable, on edge or even pained physically. Nagging angst is an almost inevitable byproduct of critical consciousness right now, so needing more intensive self-care and solitude is expected. Let that despair radicalize you to reject complicit denial and silence.
I feel most hopeful when remembering that we have revolutionized discourse around policing and public health. So far, activists have successfully pursued charges against all officers involved in George Floyd’s death. Several school districts could sever contracts with local police and instead partner with mental health agencies. The Minneapolis City Council is considering alternatives to policing. Coronavirus has led to a surge in discourse around universal health care.
Behind the scenes, many personalities and skills mobilize and sustain movements. If you are an introvert or perhaps immunocompromised, do not waste energy guilt-tripping yourself for not protesting on the front lines. The chaos and crises that transpire during revolution necessitate an exhaustive array of people. Some very indispensable roles do not require a bullhorn, so get in where you fit in. Facilitating tough conversations among friends, family, co-workers or your religious community also makes a difference.
There is no better time than now to pinpoint the strengths you have previously leveraged to survive. Start by re-authoring your life story from a strengths-based perspective. We often reflect on our past with filters of regret, resentment, self-blame and self-pity. Instead, highlight the qualities and traits that grant you resilience and staying power.
You cannot pour from an empty cup. Arguably the most fundamental protective factor against burnout symptoms like cynicism, desensitization and irritability, is rest. Rest includes whatever helps you reset: checking in with friends, meditating to regain breath control, grounding your awareness and releasing body tension through yoga, or self-monitoring your media exposure. Unchecked burnout can infiltrate every area of life —— so hold fast to your boundaries around rest.