How to Be a Perfect Activist
Step One: Don’t.
We’ve been trying to have 20/20 vision and confidence about what’s next in life since 2020. And that did not go well for us. 2020’s failed resolutions were only a reflection of previous failed resolutions. If you take any notes from failed resolutions, you may not learn how to be a perfect activist, but you can learn to be a better activist. Accept this fact: much like your yearly resolutions, you are going to be an inconsistent activist who messes up from time to time. We all are.
NWLC is preparing for our 50th anniversary this year, so we’ve been in reflective mode about the impact of our activism over the last five decades. Probably more than previous years, we’re thinking about what has and has not been working, where we’ve adjusted in the past, where we can adjust now, and our legacy thus far. And it’s not all good news. There have been failures, mistakes, and mishaps alongside the many victories.
Personally, my word to focus on this year is “tenderness,” which includes embracing those mistakes as a part of being human. Even in our movement—full of idealistic, justice-lovers—we aren’t always right, and that’s okay. In the words of the legendary 3-Stacks, “I know you’d like to think yo shit don’t stank, but lean a little bit closer and see: roses really smell like boo boo.”
We won’t always have the right words or right method, or, if you’re like me, you’ll look back and realize your approach to advocacy 10 years ago was doing more harm than good. But as you think about your cringey moments, don’t dwell there. Celebrate how far you’ve come, what you’ve learned, and who helped you get here—cause no one becomes a decent human on their own. And, as tempting as it can be, I hope you never cancel yourself from this movement—or others, cause people are people who f*ck up, and quite often.
Even if you need to set firm boundaries with a family member or old friend, or depend on someone else (a colleague or partner organization) to reach a person or group of people that may be out of your sphere of influence, I hope you’ll remain present and ever-evolving. It’s not your job to reach everyone, but that doesn’t mean those who are out of reach for me or you are out of reach for all.
If you care enough about this work, and thus, enough about people, you are a walking miracle. Don’t take that for granted, and don’t become so hardened that you believe it’s impossible for others to get on board, too. Remember, you’re evolving, too. And you know what that is…?
You’re not a perfect activist. And that’s okay. I hope you’ll make it a goal this year to be more curious, forgiving—of yourself and others—and willing to learn and grow for the sake of a more just (and joyful) world.
For more on this topic, here’s suggested reading helping me destroy the perfection myth:
- Excommunicate Me from the Church of Social Justice via Autostraddle
- How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community by Mia Birdsong
- All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks