It’s Monday! So let’s plunge into the latest edition of ‘Involved,’ where we talk about how to make change, and make it stick, under the coming years. Today’s issue is a cause, so to speak, dear to my heart, and that’s how to deal with feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed by a slew of social issues, all of which are equally important and imperative, all of which are super stressful and require tons of energy from you.
Sit down, grab a cup of tea, and take a deep breath. The first thing I want to establish is that it is in fact possible to care about more than one thing at the same time, and talking about Thing A doesn’t mean you’re not also worried about Things B-Z. It just means that at this very moment, you are talking about Thing A. You don’t need to perform caring about all the things simultaneously, it’s stressful and wasteful. If people say ‘why do you care about this and not that’ when you’re focusing on Thing A right this very minute, those people should be ashamed of themselves.
It’s entirely possible that you know about a thing and do care and are doing something, but aren’t performing that for public consumption. Or maybe you don’t know about a thing and you’re sure glad someone is telling you about it! Or maybe you know and don’t care, in which case, well, uh, I don’t know what to tell you. You do you, I guess. I can care about things that do and don’t affect me, and I can care about them in a lot of different ways. If I am talking about mental health policy, it doesn’t mean I am not also thinking about prison reform. Lots of causes are also interconnected, like, say, mental health and prison reform.
But also, and you don’t have to take my advice, what I really want to recommend you consider doing is this: Pick a cause and make it yours. Own that cause, in the sense of knowing it backwards and forwards, being familiar with influencers, and working heavily on it. Dig in deep on that cause. Maybe that’s riparian habitats, or prison health care, or the school to prison pipeline, or climate change, or housing rights for disabled people, or LGBQT poverty, or…yeah, you get the idea. Pick a cause. Try to get specific, not vague. ‘I care about disability rights’ is fantastic and great, but zeroing in to ‘I want to advocate on accessibility’ or ‘I am concerned about access to home and community-based services’ is even better.
Why? Because it allows you to go in incredibly deep, and often to do more good. I know a lot of people, for example, who have focused tirelessly and very specifically on abortion access. They are doing far more good than I ever could simply because they are there, every day, going deep, getting to know the players involved. They know about the legal issues and the medical ones. They know the social ones. They know legislators and policymakers and judges. Their work helps protect abortion access and it is incredibly valuable.
You could be that person for your cause. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about other things, but rather than you are choosing to focus, tightly, to really push in a specific area. Because this goes hand in hand with the second part of this recommendation, which is to build a network of friends who are working on different causes. Because my abortion peeps know that when they need help, they can send up a bat signal and I will be there. Their experience and knowledge will allow them to quickly bring me up to speed with the precise, targeted action they need from me, like writing a legislator, or volunteering at a clinic, or helping raise money for abortion funds. Your friend network is what makes this work for you, because all of you are pulling together even as you’re all working on different things. Feel free to start a group, or a list, or whatever works for you, with a weekly check in and urgent action items. Acknowledge that you can’t carry all the things, but that together, you can be highly effective.
Here’s the other thing, though, and it’s important: As you work on your cause, don’t neglect intersectionality. And you may find that your causes interlock, a lot. For example, if you’re working on HCBS, you should be connecting with people who are working specifically on health care. And labour — because the labour abuses of PCAs, aides, and attendants are a real problem. And race, because many of those abused labourers are people of colour, but also, people of colour are more likely to be poor and disabled, and therefore struggling to get those services. And housing policy, because people need places to live. And urban planning, because those places need to be accessible. Your single cause holds a lot of other causes, and by explicitly engaging in intersectional thinking and organising from the start, you will push a lot of social change.
Don’t let people tell you to ‘wait your turn.’ Don’t let people say ‘this isn’t relevant to the cause and we should focus on it later.’ Your turn is now, and everything is relevant to the cause. If you start out working on riparian habitat and you end up at farm animal welfare, that’s because you followed a path to work on a problem that matters to you, and if someone else started with you and branched off into fisheries policy, well, the same thing applies to them. This is all connected in a massive, messy web. If the thought of focusing on a single cause makes you anxious, like you’re letting the side down, that’s what collaboration is for, and what intersectionality is for, and it is how you will likely do the most good. Instead of working on a lot of causes with varying degrees of knowledge, commitment, and success, go for that one thing, and embrace that decision.
Image: Protest, S Pakhrin, Flickr