Sustaining Ourselves as Activists and Organizers

I have chosen to change the world using my full intelligence.

The future needs me well-rested, well-nourished, and well-exercised. My health is important.

The past is a useful source of information, but never a substitute for my thinking now.

If I am not enjoying what I am doing, then there is something wrong with how I am doing it and I will correct it.

We environmental activists and organizers care deeply about the Earth, its inhabitants, and have made important gains. We have much to be proud of. But we can easily forget our accomplishments in the daily struggles of organizing.

Many of us feel discouraged when in the face of powerful opposition our efforts to make change are unsuccessful. We may also feel powerless, exhausted, not smart enough, alone, and overwhelmed by what we need to do. When we feel these ways, it can be hard to stay motivated to make change.

We often try to ignore the feelings and keep working for change, but without addressing the feelings we may sacrifice our own health and well-being; not be able to identify with and connect with others; or even criticize, get angry at, or undermine each other. We may be unable to think of solutions and give up being activists, organizers, and leaders. We may no longer have the energy to do the work we care so deeply about.

We all struggle with living in an oppressive society. We are oppressed by and witness racism, classism, sexism, the oppression of Indigenous peoples, and many other oppressions. We can’t help but internalize their messages. The internalized oppression makes us doubt ourselves, feel inadequate, and struggle in our relationships with each other. Divided by internalized oppression within or among our organizations and communities, we may compete with each other for power, control, recognition, or resources. This keeps us from seeing or acting on the common interest we have in a just and sustainable future.

To sustain ourselves over time, we need a strong support system. We need relationships where we trust and rely on each other–fellow activists and organizers with whom we face difficulties as they arise, overcome them, and move ahead. We need to collectively free ourselves from internalized oppression. If we have these relationships, we can grow, thrive, and bring our full selves to ending the climate emergency.

We can heal from oppression and other hurts and reground ourselves in our common goal to end the climate emergency. In Sustaining All Life we work to (1) create awareness of the emotional damage that interferes with thinking about and acting to end environmental degradation, and (2) undo this damage on an individual and collective basis, by listening to each other attentively and allowing each of us to show and express the grief, fear, and other painful emotions these hurts have caused. Using this process allows us to think more clearly about the environmental crisis, build and strengthen alliances, and enjoy working together to set the world right. It helps us build courage, stamina, and the confidence that we can create a just, sustainable future for everyone.

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