The Democratic National Convention happened recently, of course. Even if you don’t live in the U.S., it was nearly impossible to miss this or to miss seeing how utterly different it ws from the Republican National Convention the week before.
One of the major differences was that the speeches brought joy and hope to most of those watching. I won’t say there were no positive emotions engendered by the RNC, but they were the exception. Fear, anger, jealousy, and hatred were the order of the day. The DNC? Many people had forgotten they could cry healing tears over politics. They remembered watching the convention in Philadelphia.
I also won’t say there were no negative emotions inspired by the DNC. Obviously, some people were in mourning for the political dreams they had tied up in Bernie Sanders. Some people were in despair because they believed the primary election was stolen from them. (It wasn’t.) Some people were frustrated as their positions and priorities weren’t completely shared.
Some people, though, were angry and scared that Hillary Clinton won’t solve problems that are life and death to them. For them, the convention meant screaming and crying and watching others celebrate as they did. And when they saw celebrations, when they saw tears of joy, they wondered whether anyone saw what they saw in the world. They wondered whether anyone cared.
I won’t tell you everyone sees the deep injustices that make people despair at times like this. Getting people to look is one of the hardest jobs an activist has. I won’t tell you everyone cares, either. Even among those who look, some people don’t have the capacity.
Some people do see, though, and do care, even though they aren’t saying anything. Sometimes they (we) don’t say anything because they care.
Activist motivation is a weird and tricky thing. We do what we do because we know there are problems, because we want to make things better. Knowing that things are bad, sometimes horrific, is what drives us to what we do.
At the same, however, we have to avoid despair. At least we have to not live in a state of despair. We have to believe that things can change, that we can make them change, in order to continue to function. If we stop believing that, we stop working. Believing it might not make it true, but if we don’t believe it, it’s definitely not true.
The balancing act is hard. Any kind of emotional regulation can be hard, but this brings together identity and strongly motivating emotions in a way few things do. It’s enough work in itself that we need to let it all drop sometimes. It should surprise no one that conventions, designed to be politically cathartic, work so well it feels like the people caught up in them can see no evil.
In fact, it probably doesn’t surprise anyone, not really. That just doesn’t keep it from feeling alienating to those who can’t experience the catharsis, and yes, we also need to get better at offering reprieve from care to everyone. But it isn’t a matter of activists not seeing the problems. It isn’t a matter of us not feeling the problems. Goodness knows some of us will say thoughtless shit if we have to defend our much-needed respites, but we do that when our priorities are in internal conflict.
We care. We want to fix the world. Yes, your part of it too. And in order to do that, sometimes we have to let it all go. Then, when we’ve round motivation again, when we believe change is possible, when we’ve taken a step back from burning out–then we can pick up again and keep moving on.