“Stand in the light.” Those were the words of Sharon Thacker, our President and CEO, after the tragedies of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last year. Last weekend, Unite the Right 2 was shut down in DC by people who do just that. People who stand in the light, who keep fighting even when they’re beyond tired.
Here at Family Service, we use the metaphor of “keeping your cup full” to talk about taking care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Meaning you cannot help people if you are not taking care of yourself too.
Even after all the victories by social justice warriors over the course of this year, it can become exhausting to keep fighting for your cause.
I’ve asked Sharon to share her thoughts with us again. She agreed to talk about ways to keep your cup full, and to keep your inner warrior going strong, when dealing with difficult current events that are often out of your control.
What to do when you’re tired of taking the moral high ground?
It was so frustrating to hear the reports last weekend of the white-supremacists receiving special treatment to get to and from their own rally. Time and time again, police officers dress in riot gear to “maintain peace” during peaceful protests of groups promoting racial justice.
But, even when the battlefield seems so unfair, Sharon says to stand firm.
“We may not like it, but we always have to do it,” she advises.
What to do when you’re feeling like a lone soldier in the battle?
“Find your tribe. They will keep you strong,” Sharon says.
Many groups came together last weekend to counter-protest, which allowed them to show how love conquers all. Black Lives Matter, ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), ResisDance Media, and more came together to accomplish a common goal.
There’s a tribe out there for you too. Find it!
(btws, ResisDance Media and BLM decided to conduct their civil disruption by dancing! This made me very happy.)
What to do when the war feels too big to win?
Out-protesting hate is a huge achievement. But, let’s be real, there are still folks who call the police on black people for taking a nap. Sometimes it feels like no one can do enough to overcome injustice.
Sharon, who has worked in many facets of social work during her 30-year career, says you’re going to get fed up. And that’s ok.
“To me, it feels like the war is always too big. We are all tired. We all put our flags down sometimes. We have to believe that someone is going to pick up the flag after we have put it down and continue running with it. We need to remember that the battles are important. The ‘little wins’ matter,” she says.
What to do when the desire to use violence strikes?
I’m sure someone has told you what you’re doing is counterproductive. Or worse, that standing up for what is right is actually unnecessary.
“Racism/sexism doesn’t exist anymore.”
“I have black friends.”
“What’s the big deal?”
Sound familiar? Comments like these are infuriating and make you wonder what’s the point of peaceful resistance anyway!
In the meantime, you see how those who incite hate use violence and hate speech to get their point across on a regular basis.
Sharon says violence to counter violence is a downward spiral. If you feel out of control or aggressive, it may be a good time to reach out to a counselor or take a small break.
“I am a person who has had privilege in my life, so I don’t have the same hurt many people have, but I don’t think tit for tat solves a problem. Violence is the divide between a moral, ethical person and our enemies. It’s the difference between you and them,” Sharon says.
What to do when you feel judge-y towards people who use violence in your cause?
It can be especially disheartening when someone judges you or your support of any part of the resistance that does use violence. This backlash is often from people who support you, but do not know the history of the civil rights movement or social justice causes.
“Keep in mind that you can agree to disagree. It doesn’t mean I’m 100% right and they are 100% wrong, Sharon says.
She also urges you to remember that anytime someone feels they’ve lost power, there’s a revolution. And when there’s a revolution, there’s pushback from others afraid of losing power.
What to do when researching the opinions of the other side is traumatizing?
Sharon says she’s had this very experience recently, watching hours of Fox News to understand others’ opinions better. But, she’s careful about it.
“When you’re in a lab scrutinizing a bug or dissecting a frog, there are no emotions. You think ‘that’s interesting. What else is going on?’ You aren’t reacting. You aren’t agreeing. You know this is research that will make your discussions stronger,” she says.
She also encourages you to set and keep boundaries. While gathering information can be useful for you, knowing your limits will keep you fighting the good fight. If you are already feeling like it’s too much, it’s probably a good time to reach out to your tribe or a counselor.
It can be so hard to change your community and our country on top of having to work, socialize, be with your family, have hobbies, and take care of yourself. You might be feeling overwhelmed just reading this article and ones like it.
The whole point of keeping your cup full is to avoid becoming complacent.
Doing nothing at all is definitely worse than doing what you can and taking breaks when you need to.
So put your flag down for a moment and rejoice in the small wins. Or keep your flag and find your support system. Take care of yourself. We need you in the fight!
Image: AP Photo by Steve Helber