I want, and have always wanted to change the world. It’s a bold statement and one that as I get older makes me feel increasingly embarrassed and naive to say out loud. Somehow as we age we become less ambitious in our goals; I have inevitably become more aware with age, of the complex dynamics of change, the barriers, the costs, the obstacles and hurdles. Subsequently, more often than not I find myself adding the quantifier ‘I want to change the world…in some small way.’
I am reminded too of that old adage ‘under 40 and not a socialist – no heart, over 40 and STILL a socialist- no brain’. It never made any sense to me, as for me, progressive politics is logical and forward thinking and in fact requires a particular kind of social and emotional intelligence -even if it didn’t, I know that I’ll always prefer to be clueless than callous.
I’ve written and spoken before about my identity as an ‘activist’ and with an important general election here in the UK just a few weeks away I’m reflecting again. Life has been getting in the way of politics of late and I’m trying to find ways to cope with the frustration this causes. Mobility issues make door knocking and leafleting virtually impossible and wrestling with a new and currently undiagnosed form of mental illness is taking up nearly all the energy I have. What’s left, is spent committing to non physical political activities that I’m often not stable enough to attend when the time comes. The resulting feeling is a kind of political impotency. What is an ‘activist’ who’s never active? Who am I if activism is little more than a pipe dream right now, and what does it mean if my activism isn’t FOR anyone but myself and those who encounter my social media feeds?
I have never believed that activism was solely about placards and marches, such a hard line is inherently ableist and incapable of recognising the realities of caring, working, poverty, illness and struggle, but as the election looms and my social media is awash with photos of friends and comrades on the doorsteps and in the trenches I am sat here shouting ‘what can I DO? And wondering ‘how can I help?’
I know of course too, that online activism is important, as are the conversations we have with friends, family and strangers as we encounter them, but I want to be out there doing more and am really struggling with not being able to. I’m writing now out of a simple need to express my frustration with myself, my situation and my illnesses. I know, intellectually that the struggle is about doing what we can ‘from each according to our abilities’ but a voice deep inside keeps whispering ‘I’m not doing enough. I’m not doing enough’. In the darkest times, I wonder if I’m just making excuses for my lack of participation. Perhaps rather than unable, I am simply lazy, and rather than frustrated I am jealous. Jealous of those who seem to have more time, more energy, more knowledge and more to offer.
I grew up raised and surrounded by activists and have continued to fill my life with beautiful progressive souls ever since. What this means, and what I think we all need to remember sometimes, is that most of us experience the nagging doubts, the anxiety of in(activism) and the guilty feeling of not giving enough no matter how much we turn up and take part. Thankfully however, we don’t judge each other like we judge ourselves. In some ways activism is like social media- it show’s you the best sides of people and airbrushes out their struggles and insecurities.
I think, if we’re honest we’re all fighting that guilt, exhaustion and self-doubt – it seems inherent to holding a worldview that is fundamentally about equity and justice, fairness, compassion and ultimately love. We feel guilty because we care. I also know too, that for me, the demons in my mind pour gasoline on that fire of self-doubt and make it all too easy to feel like giving up. The world is a dark place, and in a week when the only apparent cause for celebration is the knowledge that only 11 million people voted for Fascism in France, it’s hard not to question what difference I, as an individual can really make.
But of course, that’s precisely the point. Its not about us as individuals, it’s about the power of solidarity, the might of compassion and the force of collectivism. Here in York, the local Labour party have gone out of their way to create accessible modes of activism, safe places to talk about our needs and the barriers to participation. Inspiring comrades are sharing videos of themselves reflecting on the impact of mental illness on activism, lifts are being offered, workarounds considered and help is ever at hand.
Armed with this knowledge, I am gradually pulling myself back from the brink of despair via the strength and unity of others, I am focussing on celebrating, not envying their achievements, and begining to feel excited about getting myself down to the phonebank in the week, and seeing Mr Corbyn himself address us on Wednesday. Today at least, I am as committed as ever, and unashamed to say, ‘I am Ellie, and I WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD’.