We’re only three months into Donald Trump’s (likely) four-year term, but for many activists, it already feels much longer. The daily onslaught of disturbing developments is exhausting. Everyone knows the phrase, “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” Many activists have adapted the phrase to say that resistance is not a marathon, it’s a relay race. We don’t all need to be running constantly or we’ll get burnt out. Take the baton for a while and do your part, then pass it to someone else while you recuperate. Keep watching the race, and be ready to pick the baton back up when it’s your turn again.
1) Don’t quit
The most important part of dealing with resistance fatigue is making sure you don’t quit. Structure your life in service of the goal of not quitting. That means engaging in self-care, prioritizing your health and happiness, and having a full life. Self-care can take the form of getting regular exercise, spending time with friends, petting a dog, volunteering with children, running a fashion blog, going in the woods, writing poetry, doing a face mask, or planning for the future. It’s important, however, that we never quit in the name of “self care.” Self care is a wonderful, vital thing, but it can sometimes be used as an excuse to do nothing. Yes, we all need a day to watch Netflix and relax sometimes. But we don’t need it every day.
2) Help others with the fight
We all need to practice self-care, especially those of us who are under direct, immediate threat from this administration. This is why it’s important to pick up the baton for others. It’s important to let marginalized people lead their own movements and to not talk over them – but marginalized groups should not always have to fight their battles alone. A small example: I’m a lesbian in a relationship and my fiancée and I often get harassed in public. Yes, we know how to handle it, but we are incredibly appreciative when a straight ally steps in to help out. In that spirit – when you’re feeling a little burnt out, attend events that are important, but not personally emotionally draining for you. Help someone else with their fight for a little bit, then let them help you.
3) Don’t engage
A great way to avoid resistance fatigue is to reduce the things in your life that drain you emotionally without giving you much benefit. For example, I don’t fight with trolls on Twitter, I just mute or block them the second they come into my mentions. You aren’t going to convince Twitter trolls, it doesn’t matter how good your arguments are. So if they’re stressing you out, don’t engage.
4) Go on a news diet
You may also want to limit the amount or type of news you read or watch on a daily basis. For several months after the election I was reading the New York Times and the Washington Post all day long. I read every article I saw on Twitter that looked important or interesting. But that isn’t sustainable. Now I read the news while I eat breakfast, and again before I go to bed, with possibly a couple quick peeks throughout the day. I still know what’s going on, but it isn’t consuming me.
I also don’t read news that isn’t important to a larger narrative or trend. For example – I don’t read sensational crime news. I don’t know anything about Casey Anthony. Crime always happens, it’s tragic and sad and there’s nothing I can do about it and I don’t see how me knowing about it makes the world a better place. I don’t read about every time someone who swears allegiance to ISIS kills someone. I do, however, read about larger trends within our justice system or ISIS recruitment and growth, because I want to understand the big picture of these issues instead of internalizing every horror.
5) Focus on what’s in your control
Focus on the things you can control and the areas where you can make a difference. You can’t stop Trump from saber rattling with North Korea. You can make a plan for what you will do in the event of a national emergency. You can’t take Neil Gorsuch off the bench. You can volunteer with organizations that fight racist voter ID laws and work to get IDs for voters who need them. We can’t make Republicans impeach Trump. We can volunteer and donate to 2018 Congressional campaigns so we have a midterm turnout unlike any this country has ever seen. Ensuring a Democratic sweep next year is the most important thing we can do to protect marginalized people and hamstring the Trump Administration, and we can’t let ourselves get burned out before that.
6) Take your joy where you can get it
You are not forsaking the resistance by taking a night off. You are not abandoning people in need by going to the gym or watching a funny movie. Our lives continue even in the worst situations. That’s what humans do – we adapt, we learn to take our joy where we can get it, and we keep going. I visited Auschwitz last summer and the guide told us about a story several surviving prisoners had relayed after the war. One day there was an extraordinarily beautiful sunset, to the point that all the prisoners stopped to watch it. They marveled at its beauty and talked about it for months. These are the same prisoners that maintained resistance in the worst possible conditions imaginable – they took secret photographs, practiced their Jewish faith, smuggled newspapers, kept diaries, collected evidence, and set fire to one of the crematoria. Resistance continues. Joy does, too. We can and must keep going.
Photo: Alec Perkins/Creative Commons