Monday, June 21, 2021

Activism, Self-Care, and Transformations

Sunday morning, I listened to this episode of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders, an interview with Sarah Schulman.  Her latest book is a documenting of ACT UP.  It's the kind of interview that makes me want to read the book, but I know from past experience that I might get it and feel like I've already read it, because the interview was so wonderful.  So I'll wait for the library to get it.

I already knew a lot of the history, but she gives some interesting background.  For example, she notes how much activism changed once the camcorder was invented.  Before that invention, video equipment, which would include a boom mike, was too cumbersome (and expensive) to use.

It's the kind of interview that makes me feel bad about my own activism, that makes me feel guilty about even thinking I had any kind of activism credibility.  I know that's not her intention.  Those AIDS activists did amazing things, and Schulman reminds us that they were fighting for their lives--literally.  Many of those activists were very sick, and they didn't have much time.

I've done a variety of types of activism, from giving money to going to demonstrations, writing letters and making phone calls and monitoring institutions.  But is it enough?  I could argue that we haven't made the kind of changes that those ACT UP folks did.

But that would be wrong.  We worked to get marital rape bills changed and arms treaties ratified and abortion rights protected.  I think of the work of my campus to get a bus route and a bus stop.  That may seem minor, compared to changing the laws that made experimental drugs more widely available to patients with terminal illnesses.  But for people who don't have to walk a mile or two to the nearest bus stop, that work was critical.  I hope.

Later yesterday morning, as I drove home from a quick trip to restock provisions, I listened to the radio program On Being, which featured a different type of interview, Alex Elle discussing self care as a form of activism on behalf of oneself, and one's future and past self too.  She talks about a friend who encouraged her to go public with her writing and told her that if she changed one heart, that would be one heart changed, which would be significant.

I liked her interview more than her Instagram site.  I do realize I'm in the minority in that preference.  Or maybe it was because I was listening to the Sarah Schulman material again that explains why I found the Instagram site so much less satisfying than the human interview.

I do know that we are less able to advocate for others if we're not even advocating for ourselves.  I do understand that many people aren't taught the self-care lessons that Alex Elle offers.  

But I also wonder how our society would be transformed if we emerged from our self-care ready to fight more passionately for those who need our care.

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