Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How to keep from getting wrung out by politics: Advice for fellow activists

I have to say, lately I'm feeling really wrung out by politics. I've got that awful, worn, weary, bone tired, no gas in the tank feeling.

It's not a good feeling. Worse, it inhibits my motivation for doing anything to advance the causes that matter to me. I spent some time this past few days thinking about why I'm feeling this way, and I thought I'd share in the hope that I can help others who may be sharing similar feelings.

I wish I had a simple answer for this feeling, but at least for me it isn't simple. There's a lot going on here.

Part of it is focus. There are so many important issues in play right now: reducing emissions to slow the climate crisis, workers' rights, our state's horrible budget and revenue problems, Eyman's jobs-killing initiative 1033, voting reform, basic economic fairness for the middle class, education reform and the skyrocketing cost of education, food system reform, restoring civil liberties, and... healthcare.

All of it matters to me. I have a core belief, which I think is shared by many, if not most progressives, that I don't have very much right to complain about any of those things if I'm not out there trying to do something about them. So I end up feeling responsible, to some small measure, for all of them. But there's only so much of me to go around, and it's definitely not enough to address all of them. The whole pile of problems ends up feeling like an insurmountable, Herculean task.

Part of it is simply fatigue. How many years have I been at this? Too many. Not enough. Not as many as some. How many thousands of fundraising letters have I received? How many click-this, sign-that, call-your-congressperson emails? How many letters to the editor have I written? How many blog posts? How many conversations? Uncountably many. How many issues well and truly solved? Zero.

And part of it is a matter of unintentional psychological warfare. There's this theory of human motivation called Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Briefly stated, it says that before people can be motivated to pursue lofty, noble goals like voting system reform, their more fundamental needs for food, safety, belonging, and so forth must be met.

Maslow's theory certainly has some problems (it doesn't explain the existence of starving artists, for instance), but at its core I think it's probably pretty solid: take away or attack something low down on a person's hierarchy of needs, and you're going to pretty rapidly focus that person's attention there, rather than on more lofty items. Right now, all we hear about is healthcare. That hits me down near the bottom of the hierarchy, right at the security level.

The relentless ebb and flow of the health care debate, with its endless interpretations of whether the public option is in or out wears at me, leaving me feeling very insecure for my family's long term security. With my security under attack it's hard to spare any thought for, say, restoring civil liberties, however critically important that actually is for our nation's long term health.

So what can I do? I labeled this post as a "how to" for a reason. Because I think I've got an answer, or at least a partial one, as to how to escape this spiral of wrung-out hopelessness.

Focus and Trust. Focus is part of the problem, but also part of the solution. I have to recognize that no, I cannot attack every single problem out there, no matter how much I might care to.

I have to pick one. One singular problem. Focus on that, so that my one person's worth of political energy can do more versus one singular problem, than if I spread myself so thin against everything that I have no effect at all.

That only works, though, with trust. Trust in you, my fellow progressives, to handle the rest. If you're feeling wrung out, just pick one thing. Your one thing will be different than my one thing, and that's okay.

Your one thing probably won't even be on my list of many things. That's good. Between the millions of progressives in Washington State (not to mention across the nation), every problem will have somebody attacking it.

So what's my problem? I don't know what problem I'm going to pick off of that very long list in my head. That's going to require some further thought. But I do know this: Everyone who has made a difference lately in attacking the big problems of the day has done so by picking ONE. Markos Moulitsas picked giving the people a voice, and helped popularize political blogging as we know it. Jill Richardson picked our food system, and wrote Recipe for America.

Everybody who has made a difference has picked something. So here's the deal: I'll pick something, you pick something, and together, we'll change the world.


Blogger OrangeClouds115 said...

Thanks Jason for the shout out. Much appreciated.

September 16, 2009 3:30 PM  
Blogger Howard Martin said...

Or to put it another way: "pick your battle(s)."

September 16, 2009 5:00 PM  

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