SUSTAINABLE ACTIVISM (Adrian Harris)
I was prompted to initiate this workshop by my own experience of activist burnout. I’ve come uncomfortably close to ‘full’ burnout myself and seen a friend abandon activism permanently after a serous burnout episode. As far as I’m aware the activist community has taken burnout as a simple fact of life and never really engaged with how we might deal with it. This seems to me to be an abdication of responsibility to take care of friends, our colleagues and ourselves.
I invited others to contribute ideas to the workshop and two other people helped facilitate it: Koogie, a member of the Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA) and Jill, who has extensive experience in the field of ‘mental health’ and is part of the Trauma Network. I’ve already outlined my background on the website.
· Short discussion on burnout – what do we mean by burnout and what contributes to it.
· Sharing techniques we use to deal with burnout.
Techniques and Exercises:
· Clowning exercises – Koogie.
· Active Listening - Jill
(I was planning to introduce Core Energy Management, but we ran out of time.)
Go round on how the workshop went.
Notes taken during workshop
[My comments in square brackets]
Open question: How have those in the workshop taken care of themselves this week-end?
Reponses include getting drunk, not getting drunk, sleeping properly, getting quiet time, eating good food, choosing experiential workshops, and not taking care at all!
Open question - What do we mean by burnout?
- Burnout not only effects activists but many people including carers and corporate workers. - Different forms of burnout: Total burnout renders you incapable for weeks or much longer. May abandon activism as a result. Mild burnout more common and we recover after a couple of weeks off. Also ‘issue burnout’ where it becomes impossible to engage with one particular issue. - Is ‘corporate burnout’ different to ‘activist burnout’? - Burnout is episodic.
Open question: What contributes to burnout?
[This emerged from the discussion above]
- People in group tend to try to match the work load of the ‘pace setter’
- Activists try to do everything because there’s so much to do: “Trying to ‘save the world’!”
- Information overload creates stress
- Work addiction
- Disillusionment, defeat, feelings of hopelessness
- Activists have strong group identity. Has positive aspects but may contribute to burnout and may put off people from becoming activists.
- Non- activists can be overly critical of activists, expecting us to be 100% all the time.
- We feel strongly about issues. Emotional engagement both inspires us and exposes us to the risk of burnout.
- “Constantly… ‘fighting’ burns you out.”
- No room to express ourselves
- Expectation of 24/7 265 days a year activism. Also puts off potential activists.
- Human relationships
- Structure of how we do things
One participant felt structural issues were fundamental and not addressed by the format of the workshop. The workshop took burnout as given, and explored techniques for dealing with it in the same way that a corporation might do in an effort to improve productivity. A more radical approach would question our fundamental attitudes and move towards an activism where burnout simply didn’t happen. The workshop dealt with the symptom not the disease.
Others agreed that this was worth pursuing, but it would be a long-term project so we needed ways to deal with the immediate problem of burnout as it faces us everyday.
Open question: How do we deal with burnout?
- Pacing yourself
- Being aware of time and taking breaks
- Having fun! Positive experiences.
- Celebrating individual and group achievements
- Creating positive spaces events and alternatives [like Knowledge Lab!]
- Sharing ideas and beliefs
- Creating in general
- Finding other ways to measure success
- Accepting and showing our vulnerability