This essay was inspired by a meeting with several organizers after I had been fairly MIA from my DSA chapter for a while. It is extremely refreshing to be doing tough work with people who understand the need for every person to step back from time to time, and to have others ready and willing to step up.
It is really difficult to be living right now. Yes, the past was really difficult too. More difficult in a lot of aspects. Technology has made life easier, living standards have improved across the globe, medicine has cured illnesses that wiped out countless people before us.
But right now, in this time, it is so difficult to be alive because we can see (or imagine) the end. For once the future does not look bright and promising. It looks like extreme weather events increasing exponentially until Earth is left ragged, with just a fraction of the human population to scrounge what remains. And this possibility exists within our lifetime.
Pair the recognition of what is happening to our planet with the reality of everyday life for the majority of people. Even if we know the severity of the climate crisis, even if it scares us and makes us angry, what can we do about it? At least five days a week we spend the majority of our waking hours working for someone else. Then we have kids to take care of, chores to do, second jobs; even the simple tasks of feeding yourself is a burden when you’re exhausted from the toil of living in this society.
So you push it away. You see a flood happening in a different part of the country and you think, “thank god it wasn’t me.” And you push the news out of your head so you can retain other information that you need for work, or for your kids and family, or simply because dwelling on The Crisis sends you spiraling and you don’t have time for that. And pushing it away is easy to do, because that’s what the entire world is doing. The news is not connecting the dots. Discussing it with others just leads to sadness and cynicism. Some have refused to even believe the reality unfolding around them. And always, the question becomes, what can we (what can I) even do about it?
With the pressures all around us and hardly any free time to give, it’s so easy to let someone else handle it. I don’t have time to meet and talk about how to solve climate change. Oh, you’re taking donations? Here, I can donate a little each month. And you’ll handle it? Awesome, one less thing to worry about. And some of those organizations getting donations do help…a little bit…with what they can. But they’re still part of the system as it stands, and most likely will not be able (or allowed) to change that system.
And some of those organizations and people are far more nefarious. How nice to think one person, or one group of people, will solve all the problems. And how easy, when there are so many other pressures in our lives, to not have to think about solving the most incomprehensible problems that face humanity.
Fascism entices many people who feel extremely alienated and lonely. But what can be even more concerning is how it silently draws so many others. They don’t always like what’s being said, but hey, something’s gotta change right? And here’s someone who sounds really impressive. Like they can take the reins and figure things out. So I don’t have to. So I can deal with all the other shit I have going on in my life. I may not agree with everything they’re espousing, but they’re not taking up more of my time. They’re not asking me to “get involved” and give more time that I really don’t have. So fine, here’s my donation. Or here’s my vote. Now let me shove the scary thoughts to the back of my mind and get on with failing to balance my budget for the third month in a row.
This is what we’re up against. Those of us who understand what it takes to actually solve the toughest problems facing humanity. We have to convey that yes, these problems are extremely scary and difficult, but not impossible. We can figure it out, and change things for the better. But unfortunately, it’s going to take more than donating money, or voting for the person who says they can fix it all. It’s going to take your time, your precious energy. That you don’t even have enough to give. Because it will take all of us to make this change, there are no shortcuts.
Even those of us who understand this, and have started to put what little time and energy we have into changing the world around us, it is very difficult for us too. You see someone who seems to have limitless energy, and you think to yourself they’ve got it. I can sit back and let them handle it. But eventually that person’s energy will run out. Or they will experience a health problem. Or they simply lose interest and walk away. Then what?
When organizing in a truly democratic way and strictly on a volunteer basis you learn very quickly that you must have a large base of engaged people to keep it afloat. Because it’s difficult to be living right now. And we all need rest. If you can’t step back to rest and have your spot filled in by someone who has the energy at that moment, your cause will never survive.
It is so hard to build a group that functions in this way. If you’re working on it, keep going. It is worth it. If you find a group that already has this dynamic in some form or another, stick with it. Make it better. Keep it going. The only way we’re going to solve our most difficult problems is together. We all need rest and grace at times. And when you’re talking with those who are tired, who want a quick answer instead of more obligations, remember that you feel that way too sometimes. And the good news is, you have a group of people who can step up when you have to give your arms a break. So even if this new, tired, busy person can only sit in the boat with you for a while, that is fine. Others are rowing. And at some point, that new person will feel that they can give a little more. Which will be right when an oar opens up because someone else needs a break.
It is really difficult to be living right now. We can make it a little easier by supporting one another when we inevitably need a break. And that’s the only way we can truly make the changes we want to see for our future.
By Julie C