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The Activist Whisperer

Award-winning activist Sarah Corbett is the founder of the global Craftivist Collective and a pioneer of the art of Gentle Protest. In her new weekly Agony Aunt column for Lush Times she tackles those issues that may be stifling someone from being part of the change they wish to see in our world.

 

Dear Activist Whisperer,

I’m overwhelmed by the constant bad news I see on the television, newspapers and social media. It feels like the world is falling apart. I want to do something to help but I have no idea what to do and what issue to focus on so I just feel stuck and end up doing nothing which then makes me feel worse. What can I do? I don't want to ignore the suffering I see in the world but I also don't have much time or money to do a lot because I have a job, a mortgage and a family I don't want to neglect.

Lucy, Coventry UK

 

Dear Lucy,

You’re not alone, honey. I feel overwhelmed regularly and I’ve been an activist since I was three-years-old (when I was squatting in social housing with my community - we won btw). I am asked your question at least once a week online or at events. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed. It also shows you care, which is brilliant.

It may sound cold-hearted, but the first thing to do is accept that there will always be suffering in our world. We should keep striving to help create a world of peace, health and harmony but aware that we will never achieve perfection. You may see a positive change because of your actions, you may not. Live out your values anyway.

Then, limit how much news you take in, especially the scaremongering clickbait that doesn't offer constructive ways to help solve problems. I’m not encouraging you to be ignorant but if we're spending hours reading bad news but not reflecting on how we could be part of the solution (or problem!) then we are not using our time and energy productively.

Make a habit to 'look for the helpers’: positive.news and goodgoodgood.co are both brilliant outlets celebrating stories of people, products and protests that are creating long-lasting solutions to world problems. Read them, support them, share them and hold on tight to them in times of despair. Look at the bigger picture: for example, while it’s scary that President Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate change, at the same time four American states – Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota – reported that 30% or more of their in-state electricity production comes from wind. Just because a world leader is doing bad things, that doesn't stop business, local politicians and others from working around them to do good things.

There may be times when you have to focus on immediate issues affecting you or your loved ones. Don’t beat yourself up during these times. However usually there will be times when you can, in your words, ‘do something to help’.

Next, grab yourself a pencil and an A4 piece of paper m’dear. Now. There is no time like the present. Turn the paper to landscape position. Draw a straight line across the middle of the page from left to right and plot out an average day in chronological order. Assess your daily actions and habits to see if you can improve them to ‘do no harm’ and put your values into practice: Could your breakfast supplies be more ethical? Could you move your home energy supplier to a renewable energy company before you turn on your light tomorrow morning (you totally can, I did, it’s easy peasy and saves me money!)? Can you use less plastic each day and recycle more? Each day can you treat people with kindness and respect from the bus driver to the bartender? Your answers may be different to others because of time, resources, budget etc. available to you but you may be surprised at how much power you do have that can be used for good just by tweaking a few daily actions.

Then and only then look at what you can do to protest about the suffering and injustices you see. If you’re not directly affected by an injustice you need to respond to ask yourself honestly and humbly “What can I change? What can I not change? Where do I have power and influence? Where and when can I be of most use with my skills and time?”

I remember seeing harrowing footage on the TV of the ‘White Helmets’ volunteers carrying dust-covered people out of rubble in Syria and I just couldn’t stop crying. What could I do realistically while still paying my rent and delivering my work deadlines? I emailed my MP (Member of Parliament) asking what the UK Government is doing to protect innocent civilians in this civil war and to help bring about peace: UK politicians have a responsibility to respond to constituents and their correspondences are used to see what residents care about. This can influence an MP’s voting record and even national government decisions. Then I donated the little I could afford to the DEC to be distributed to the 13 leading UK aid charities working in Syria making sure that funds reach those that need them most. That’s it. That’s all I could do at that time. If I had more time I would have looked to see what campaigning respected charities working on this issue were asking for but I had three protests I was helping with where I did have more influence and so I was focusing on them even though I care deeply about other issues too. It’s taken me years not to feel guilty saying that.  

Finally, above is a photograph you might find helpful to print out. It’s of a piece of fabric I hand-stitched and have on my desk with a quote from Professor Raymond Raymond WIlliams, an influential Welsh, academic, novelist and critic that I hope encourages you as much as it encourages me:       

“Make hope possible not despair convincing”

I can’t cure you from feeling overwhelmed in the future darling Lucy. However, the more you implement the above practices into your daily habits the less you will feel like a ‘deer in the headlines’ and the more you can be part of the change you wish to see in our messy world which is my hope for all readers of this weekly column.

In solidarity

The Activist Whisperer

 

Award-winning activist Sarah Corbett is the founder of the global Craftivist Collective and a pioneer of the art of Gentle Protest. In her new weekly Agony Aunt column for Lush Times she tackles those issues that may be stifling someone from being part of the change they wish to see in our world.

If you have a question for Sarah, email her at: [email protected]

Make a habit to 'look for the helpers’... stories of people, products and protests that are creating long-lasting solutions to world problems.

Comments (3)
3 Comments

DebbieMc

about 3 months ago

Great to see you here, Sarah! I heard you speak a few years ago at Essex WI Federation HQ. I love your advice here, real food for thought. Definitely going to do that exercise and work out where I can make changes.

RHusk

about 3 months ago

Brilliant, practical advice as ever. Well done Sarah. I will be printing the pic and keeping it on my desk ☺

bethberry_2001_6729719

about 3 months ago

Sarah, Congratulations on your new platform. Your message and methods of gentle protest couldn't be more timely. Keep up the good work. Beth -from Rhode Island.