Take Care of Yourselves, Activists

As activists, we are no strangers to the long hours and constant mental strain that puts a serious toll on both our personal and political lives. Many of us believe that, to do activism right, we cannot ever stop being active. This is, of course, true to a point. If you are going to fight against an oppressive hierarchy that has been oppressing you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your entire life, it follows, then, that you would need to fight back constantly.

However, many people — especially within the feminist movement — are arguing that this kind of non-stop activism is not sustainable. In the 2007 book, “What is the Point of Revolution if We Can’t Dance?“ Jane Barry and Jelena Đorđević explore the mental and physical exhaustion that women’s rights workers around the world experience as a result of their activism.

Often, we see these difficulties as sacrifices that must be made for the well-being of others, but what about the well-being of ourselves? For Barry and Đorđević, self-care is just as important as the work itself. According to Barry, it is vital that activists care for themselves, or else the movement will not be sustainable: “Sustainability is about being able to do the work we love, while still feeling full and happy in every part of our lives. It’s about feeling safe, feeling connected, feeling recognized, respected, and valued—for who we are, as much as for what we do.”

The Urgent Action Fund has created the Sustaining Activism project, which focuses on identifying breaking points in people’s ability to continue activism. They found three key points that prevent activism from being sustainable:

The ‘culture of activism’ including unsustainable work habits, where activists work all hours possible without taking breaks; disregard for personal wellbeing, either due to peer pressure or a sense of guilt at taking care of one’s own needs when so many others are suffering; exclusion or marginalization of activists from mainstream movements because of their identity (sexual orientation, age, religion, ethnicity), their geographic location or access (urban vs. rural) or the issues they are addressing (LGBT rights, sex workers’ rights, disability rights, etc.)

In other words, activists are feeling burnt out because of their long work hours and lack of break time, they feel guilty or pressured to continue their activist work instead of addressing their own needs, and they feel excluded from movements that are not yet wholly intersectional.

According to this article, security is also a major factor in sustainable activism. When we think about well-being, we typically think of taking mental and physical breaks from the work we do to recharge, but we must also think about the risks many activists take when they work among their oppressors. Safety and security, or a lack thereof, can be a huge factor in activists feeling they can no longer work in their chosen field.

As an activist writer myself, I can attest to the mental and physical strain, as well as the safety concerns we should be addressing. Writing on the internet can be taxing, as you often feel the pressure to cover a certain story immediately in order to get your words out there. This can lead to writing at all hours without breaking. In a culture where news is pushed out at the click of a button, writing needs to happen very quickly. If there is something out there you want to cover, you’d better jump at the opportunity, or it will rapidly pass you by.

Furthermore, many people see the internet as an anonymous forum where they can say whatever they want without repercussions. As such, feminist writers and bloggers are frequently attacked and threatened virtually, whether through blog comments, emails or other forms of communication. These factors combined can lead to feminist activists throwing in the towel and giving up due to concerns about their safety or being burnt out.

If activism is to be sustainable, we need to start taking care of ourselves and being as concerned about our well-being as we are about that of others. My hope is that, as an activist community, we can recognize the signs of burning out and other safety concerns and help each other move toward a more healthy form of activism for all.


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Millennials, Activism and Race: A New Study

7th Empire Media: “Lights, Camera, Activism”

Humor and Activism: Why Didn’t the Groupon Ads Work?

Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue


Mary B.
Mary B5 years ago

The cops go home,another shift takes over. The bankers leave at the end of the day. Of course the activists need to withdraw and regroup. If you don't care enough about yourselves to have sense enough to do this, don't expect anybody else to have the respect for you that you won't show to yourselves. Please, learn to work in shifts, but you must give your bodies time to rest and recoup, and release the mental focus long enough to allow in new ideas.Don't just stay where your camped. Go someplace away where you're safe. The 'oppressors' know if they keep sending in fresh cops they've got you between a rock and a hard place. Do not sacrifice yourself or you're just helping them oppress you.

Heather Marvin
Heather Marv5 years ago

So true. Its a bit like motherhood really. Mum gets up to the baby throughout the night and keeps busy all day and she barely notices her own needs. However she needs to because if she gets sick she is unable to take care of the infant and that affects the whole family. So the activist who won't stop because she/he is concerned for everybody else is in the same boat. Time out from the stress, the demands etc helps one feel recharged and ready to continue on. Time in a garden for instance can take away any negativity and stress.Thanks for the article and showing your concern for others too.

Monica D.
Monica D5 years ago

Some good points. Thank you.

BMutiny TCorporationsAreE

The entire book is right there on line to be read! I just read it thru, just now.

Edward N.
Edward N.5 years ago

Aloha if you have written this eye opening piece as a vehicle for your own venting and rehab then congratulations you have been heard, understood and admired. We must all in the course of our lives take time out and "smell the roses". Down time is important to regenerate our tanks. I always look forward to reading your articles as I share your enthusiasm but lack your committment.

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g d c5 years ago


Nadine Hudak
Nadine H5 years ago


Fadi M.
Fadi M5 years ago

Wow, this article is far from truth I'd say. Activists are activists simply because they look at the big picture all the time. To them life is not worth living when someone or something else is suffering, being harmed or denied any of their rights, be it a human being, animal or nature. Therefore real activists rarely give attention to personal matters and pains; it is an out of question decision because they simply do not enjoy life when someone else is unable to. There is a sense of ONENESS and connectedness to every other living being and a sense of purpose that keeps fueling their energy and driving their passion. This is why many of them are dead, in prison, being tortured, expelled from their own countries, etc.

Ness W's statement is a proof. THANK YOU!

Carrie H.
Carrie H5 years ago

I thank Darcy Buner had it right and the best idea I have heard one that will make us feel good Her shoping App http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4h_y7ypyb1Q

Magyar Girl
Past Member 5 years ago

You have to take breaks or you will burn out. Then you are good to no cause.