Having been in the political field for approaching six months now, I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of experiences of political figures, activists, and community members alike. Like myself, many people whom I’ve interviewed also have their roots in on-the-ground campaigning, and foremost on their agenda is bringing genuine representation to communities. With prioritizing meeting communities where they are comes the true understanding of the way that people live, the struggles they go through, and their frustration with the slowness of change. As activists and public servants, the result can be activism fatigue, a phenomenon incredibly common but rarely spoken about.
Activism fatigue can be experienced by a variety of people. It is commonly felt by those in the political space, activists, and people with marginalized identities. The commonality between those groups is that every day can feel like a beetle to represent themselves and their communities and fight for change to occur that will positively impact others. To assess whether or not you’re experiencing activism fatigue, ask yourself a few questions: Have you ever felt like the more you learn about political issues, the more issues you uncover? Have you ever felt burned out, stretched thin, and like you didn’t have enough energy to devote to all of the topics worth talking about? These are some classic signs of activism fatigue. You may be overwhelmed with bad news, agenda items, and causes you feel are worth fighting for.
While these feelings are completely natural, there is a great deal of misconception surrounding what activism fatigue is, creating an unnecessary shame around the experience. Oftentimes, people who experience it may panic, wondering if their tiredness means that they no longer care about their causes as much as they did when they first began campaigning for them. With the knowledge that many of the groups they advocate for live their struggles every day and don’t have the option to simply take a step back from them, many activists struggle to give the reality of their tiredness any true acknowledgement. The idea that our labor and our strength is a finite resource is a daunting prospect when very real people are looking to you as a representative. However, this mindset can create cycles of guilt and self-sabotage. On the contrary, activism fatigue usually arises when an individual has a high level of conscientiousness regarding social issues and spreads themselves too thin as a result.
Frequently, sources that do talk about activism fatigue offer advice on how to “overcome” it. However, like any ailment, activism fatigue should be viewed as something to treat rather than to “conquer.” It calls us to remember to center our needs, to turn inward, and to prioritize the joy that you’re working toward. So often is the community-care aspect of advocacy overlooked for those in the representative role, but it is absolutely crucial for practicing advocacy in a sustainable way. Next time you’re faced with a situation where you feel overwhelmed, remember that the relationship between an advocate and their community should be reciprocal rather than transactional. While we may be community leaders, like anyone, we should garner support from the people around us; no one can be an island. Activism fatigue can be a scary feeling, but it can be managed when we keep in mind that it is only with community solidarity that we can truly overcome.