Activism: Should you go broad or deep?

A lot of the taking care of yourself while fighting for America recommendations out there say to go deep on one or two issues.  Not because the other issues aren’t important, they are.  But because you’ll get burned out if you try to focus on too much stuff.  Better to pick an issue, join a specific-interest group, and do things for that issue.

We at grumpy rumblings have been recommending a different approach.  We’ve been telling people that if you have 15 min a week, to sign up for one of the weekly mailing lists going around (see our activism tab) and just do what it says on that list for that week (if you agree with the items, etc.)  We argue that doing this is a way to compartmentalize all the craziness and use your limited time and attention to make your voice heard.  Someone else has done all the research, made decisions about what to focus on most immediately, and needs you to provide the power of your voice and beliefs.  If you’ve got more time, you can subscribe to more lists or follow one of the twitter accounts that provides daily actions.

We don’t think that going deep is wrong either.  We think both are needed.  We need the people willing to go to meetings and do the initial research.  We need people willing to aggregate across those different groups and figure out what is most timely.  We need people to do the finger work to make calls across a wide variety of issues.  And we need those people to not burn out.

So do whichever works best for you and whichever fits with your life and personality best.

I can’t focus on just one issue– there are too many.  But I also get overwhelmed just looking at CNN.  So… I’m letting @Wandsci, @ActionsUSA, and others do that reading and aggregating and figuring out who to call for me.  And then I mostly do what I’m told.  (I’ve also been doing weekly proofreading for one of the groups in my state and I’ve been keeping and adding to a list of progressive groups in our county which I then give to groups so they can connect with each other, and I’ve been helping people figure how to do the activism they want to do.  So I guess you could say I’ve been going deep on networking.  Even though I’m a total introvert.).

DH is currently drilling down on a project to protect immigrants because that’s what the local democratic party has decided to focus on and DH was willing to figure out who to talk to to get the the information they need to set up their own program in conjunction with an immigrant group.  He’s also making weekly phone calls.

So no, I don’t think you have to go deep to avoid burnout unless that’s what you want to do.  You probably can’t dive deep into every issue, but you can dive deep into one or two, or you can be an intermittent voice for a broad array of issues.  Not burning out is important, but you don’t have to focus on only one thing to avoid it, you just can’t focus on everything.

How do you avoid burnout?  Do you prefer broad or deep (or a little of both)?  Do you think one is inherently better than the other, or does it depend on the person?

23 Responses to “Activism: Should you go broad or deep?”

  1. independentclause Says:

    I’ve been going broad, or as some might say, superficial. But I figure if I do something every other day or so, it can’t hurt. I’m trying to keep myself informed too.

  2. Hypatia Cade Says:

    I think broad/deep depends in part on your time commitment/emotional and mental availability. If you only have 15 min/day then I think broad and an email list is great. If you are already knowledgable about a particular area or have time in bigger chunks (2-8 hrs/week) then I think being the person who drills down on a particular issue and synthesizes it for others is also needed. Especially at the local level – lots of national level activists exist, but someone who is tracking state education funding or collective bargaining legislation or how state regulations on housing are being implemented in your local city council is much more rare and just as needed…. and perhaps more likely to have an impact.

  3. crazy grad mama Says:

    I strongly agree with you on this. People should find the activism strategy that is sustainable for them. For me that means primarily focusing on a handful of issues, but not everybody’s brain works like mine (ha!).

    I think many (not all, but many) of the folks saying “focus on one/few issues” aren’t saying it so much to discourage people from going broad, as much as to give people permission to ignore issues outside their focus when they’re getting overwhelmed.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Absolutely! But I think it’s also good to give permission not to focus if that’s what works for them.

      A lot of these things going around make it seem like the only choices are going deep on a lot of issues (which is bad) or going deep on a few, when in reality people who go broad are also needed as foot soldiers in the fight. And for some of us the thought of getting deep and passionately involved in something on top of work and family etc. is much more terrifying than the thought of following instructions each week on a number of issues that seem pretty obvious to someone with a conscience.

      In fairness to these advice posts, I would never have thought of focusing on one issue as being less stressful than going broad if I were giving people advice on how to handle the long fight. But now that it’s been brought to my attention, it makes sense. (Different strokes…)

      My mother-in-law just told my DH that she’s doing general activism for the first time in her life. (Prior to this she has done activism specific to her career in her capacity in various professional roles.)

  4. chacha1 Says:

    I’m a bad activist. :( I just can’t. My job & life situation is so stressful right now that I am simply throwing money at the organizations I trust to act on the issues of most importance to me. (Nature Conservancy, California State Parks Foundation, Audubon, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council.) And frankly I’m so misanthropic right now that the only human-oriented organizations I am giving to are ACLU and Planned Parenthood.

    I have an extremely pessimistic view of the national trend, which since Reagan has been rightward for 80% of the geographic area of the US. There are, in truth, three nations in the US: the business-oriented, progressive Northeast Coast; the agrarian, reactionary South and middle; and the business-oriented, progressive West Coast. As a historian I don’t think it’s necessarily reasonable to assume that a nation must retain its shape at all costs. Civil wars happen. There are definitely times when I think breaking the US into its 50+ component parts is downright attractive. I sure don’t want my tax dollars supporting the Confederacy of F***ing Dunces any more.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Throwing money is activism too!

      I seem to be more hopeful in my red state than people are in blue states. I read an article today that said we’re breaking records in how much we’re contacting government officials. If this keeps up, in two to four years we might just blow the tea party out of the water in terms of activism.

      Plus Indivisible is SO MUCH more organized than the state democratic party AND they’re willing to find principled moderate republicans to primary the horror shows we have in office now. (More on that in a future post possibly scheduled for next month.)

      • jane Says:

        THANK YOU for more in the future post. I am in an under attack blue state and Hope is needed. I so appreciate what you are doing!

      • chacha1 Says:

        fwiw there’s no reason to think that the party system we have now is permanent. If the Democratic Party is both failing its voters and hauling around a lot of toxic baggage – which I think is obvious – then maybe part of activism should be working on a genuine new party movement. The trick will be coming up with a party name that hasn’t already been co-opted by some wretched gang of nitwits elsewhere in the world.

        In fact this may be something I can do: argue in favor of breaking away. Because my rep and my Senators are fighting the good fight, but they have to be hella mad at the national levels of party spinelessness (& cluelessness).

      • Cloud Says:

        If we can maintain involvement of even half the people fired up right now, we’ll blow the Tea Party out of the water. They were always a minority group. I’ve seen polls indicating that maybe 30% of the population supported them. They were just loud and willing to primary Republicans, and Republicans turned out to be more afraid of losing their positions than interested in standing up for their principles. I haven’t seen polls on the Indivisible groups specifically, but I have seen polls indicating that 60% of the population supported the Women’s March. We are a majority movement.

        I think my experience growing up in a red state makes me a little more hopeful than some of my fellow Californians. I know there are good people in red states, and that some of them are Republicans. I saw good ideas come from Republicans, and saw that Democrats could still make gains when they acknowledged those good ideas. Not all Republicans are as spineless as their representatives. So I guess I still think that we might turn this around. I am watching to see if any of the anti-Trump Republicans will primary some of the current crop. I might even be willing to donate some money to help them do so, in places where I think Democrats have little short term chance of winning. (I think we should be competing more broadly, though.) I want a country where we all send our reps to represent our interests, but expect them to actually talk to and negotiate with the reps other people sent. I think the biggest damage done by the Tea Party was that it made people’s reps afraid to compromise, and then problems just festered.

        Thinking this, it was hard for me to get behind the “obstruct everything” idea for Democrats now. It took the disaster of the immigration EO and Steve Bannon on the NSC to make me decide we should obstruct. Basically, I now think we should obstruct and delay and be pains in McConnell and Ryan’s asses until they decide they’ll actually negotiate. Right now, the Republicans aren’t looking for us to compromise, they are looking for us to capitulate. And I am not on board with that!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I want good people to Take Back the Republican Party. I really hope Evan McMullan’s group gains momentum because I think that’s a place where Indivisible groups can work well with principled Republicans.

        I was initially for, ok find common ground let’s get some infrastructure. But that’s not what they’re doing– the things they’re doing need to be obstructed and they need to be fought tooth and nail on everything until they stop going beyond the pale of what this country stands for.

    • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

      Supporting organizations that do the activism IS activism, isn’t it?

  5. jane Says:

    Thank you for all you are doing for activism. You have really helped me with mental health stability. I refer people to the sites you mention ALL THE TIME.
    Please can you upstream a request for postcards to newspapers and news agencies/media titled: I WANT A STORY ON: and list the topic with specific information to be included. Example: Compare Congressional Insurance coverage with ACA and Medicare insurance. Include all benefits and costs paid by insured persons, company providing insurance if through employment, if coverage extends beyond time on job. Ask those in Congress who support vouchers for health care why that has not been instituted for Congress first as a test case for effectiveness along with a requirement that no supplemental insurance or private pay money may be used by Congressional Insurers. Ask why Congress has not done this in the past 6 years.

    I want a story about which schools including private ones will allow open enrollment of any and all childern with only voucher payment. Include all exclusives private and religious schools. Include how state per capita funding changes if all private school children get a share of the funds currently restricted to public schools.

    I am sure you all have other ideas. Get a public push to take ‘celebrities’ off the front line news and do investigative reporting.
    How many cities and municipal water treatment plants down stream from Standing Rock to the gulf are prepared to remove pipeline contamination from their drinking water. What is the cost. Where does the money come from. Is there an obligation for those companies profiting from this pipeline AND THE OTHERS to 100% fully insure against any and ALL such costs. What about Love Canal and the cost of it’s clean up and the illness and deaths involved. Who will pay to make drinking water clean if coal sludge is dumped into streams? What is the cancer rate currently in locations with coal mining and what was it prior to regulations.
    THANK YOU. We need news medias doing investigative reporting on grizzlies in schools versus the mentally ill with guns. We need a national campaign demanding coverage and pulitzer prizes for investigative reporting.

  6. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I do a little bit of both. Sometimes I feel compelled to dive deep to get the info, and that’s fine. Sometimes I feel like I have to stay back on the surface and look more at strategic moves and helping those who are too overwhelmed to pick and choose actions by supplying them some easy actions to do – and do those “easy” actions like making calls and then sharing.

    I need to do enough of both to feel slightly more confident that we’re going to survive this, but not so much that I completely suck at the rest of my life, because that’s been a tough push/pull.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Next week we’re going to talk about how we cope. At some point in the future we have an unfinished post on strategy which talks a lot about what you’re saying.

      We were all feeling a bit bummed by the DeVos pick, but there’s actually been a lot of change going on in our state even though our senators’ votes didn’t change. Record activism. And one of my colleagues just came by to say that one of the really awful state bills up this year just died. None of the legislators was willing to take ownership of it, possibly because of what we’ve been doing.

  7. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I think there is a place for all types of activism–broad, deep, monetary. I was asked to march and stand to protect others from harassment. Instead, I suggested I join the other side. I did and was terrified. For a week this continued. A friend’s father and others had been murdered. The organizers feared for my life. Soon, I did, too. I took information to my side and helped them to stay ahead of the protestors. Soon, I was the target of our side who had to be held back from harming me as they thought I was coming amongst them to hurt our leader.

    She sent me out to the back porch to assemble her grill so we could cook one night. First, she plied me with wine. So, I was in the twilight, fighting a cat off the pieces of the grill, not accustomed to drinking even wine. As I came in the back door, women started screaming and rushing me as others tried to get away thinking I had a bomb. Even though it took only ten seconds to calm the frightened group, it shook me badly.

    As a result of all of this, people would greet me warmly in elevators and on the campus. I froze because I did not know which way to play it. I suffered with PTSD for about ten years, waking nightly to sounds of explosions and gunshots. I had startled so that the bed was shaking and soon I was drenched in sweat and awake for hours. It took me about two years to finally recognize I was suffering from PTSD.

    This is the first time I have ever written this. I got three credit hours in special studies. The ten page paper included none of this. My adult daughter was very upset, ordering me never to do this again. People continued to be murdered!

    Maybe I have said too much.

    After that, strategizing and generally spreading the word is the support I give. Mostly, I try to give women in bad situations support if only a word in a fleeting moment. Ex: When I see what is absolutely a battered woman, I approach her gently and tell her, “You are worth more than this.” Depending on the response, I say more.

    In this solid red state, women are not valued as people. DeVos scares me!

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