“Sometimes we have to do the work even though we don’t yet see a glimmer on the horizon that it’s actually going to be possible.” – Angela Davis
Social activism is work. Whether you’re pounding the pavement as a protestor, petitioning political representatives, donating to ongoing campaigns, attending community meetings, or a million other potential roles one can take in this ongoing struggle, you’re likely to feel burnt out at some point.
That’s especially true for this specific moment we’re in, where our usual methods for recentering are not available to us. Isolated with our smart devices, it’s hard not to doom scroll in our spare time, which can make us feel like no effort is enough to make a meaningful difference.
How do we resist this pessimism and remain committed to our work? How do we take it one step further to not just feel accountable to our work, but begin deriving pleasure and satisfaction from it?
“I don’t think we have any alternative other than remaining optimistic. Optimism is an absolute necessity, even if it’s only optimism of the will… and pessimism of the intellect.”
– Angela Davis
In adrienne maree brown’s book Pleasure Activism, she talks about the necessity of pleasure in activism and how reclaiming pleasure as a path to liberation. In the same spirit, here are five ways to sustain your activism through pleasure:
1. Set the intention.
“We need to learn how to practice love such that care—for ourselves and others—is understood as political resistance and cultivating resilience.” – adrienne maree brown
Though it sounds simple, deciding that you want to participate in a type of activism where pleasure is prioritized over suffering is a huge first step. Take a look at how you’ve perceived activism in the past and be intentional about what ideas or strategies you want to disengage from moving forward. While there are sure to be days that are discouraging or tiring, affirm that these will be the exception rather than the rule. Set the intention to bring contentment, joy, and pleasure into your activist work. Remind yourself that reclaiming pleasure is a revolutionary act in itself.
2. Learn your erotic needs.
“In touch with the erotic, I become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.” – Audre Lorde
Pleasure Activism builds on an idea first presented in writer and activist Audre Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic,” wherein she states the importance of understanding one’s erotic desires as a type of power that can be used for creating a life that is intentionally centered around love, satisfaction, and harmony.
The problem is that many of us have become disconnected from what we need to feel full and engaged. That makes the process of learning and naming our erotic needs integral to activism that is centered in pleasure.
3. Stay centered in the “why.”
“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” – Angela Davis
Opponents will attempt to knock you off track by purposely misunderstanding the message of the movement. For this reason, you must remain close to and centered in why this work is necessary. You must really feel into the purpose behind your efforts and the future you’re working towards. Imagine what the world will be like when all beings are loved, safe, and free. Allow yourself to be buoyed by the collective energy that is working towards that future.
4. Cushion the work in pleasure.
“Pleasure is not one of the spoils of capitalism. It is what our bodies, our human systems, are structured for; it is the aliveness and awakening, the gratitude and humility, the joy and celebration of being miraculous.” – adrienne maree brown
Release the belief that pleasure is something that must arise unprompted and begin to intentionally seek it out and cultivate it. Cushioning the work in pleasure means offsetting some of the draining aspects of the work with things that you know make you feel good. That might mean committing to eight hours of sleep every night. It might mean making a deliciously refreshing mocktail or meal before sitting in front of your computer to email representatives. It might mean ending your day with self-massage or an orgasm as a way of rewarding yourself. Make a list of the things that bring you pleasure and/or joy and become curious about how you can bring them into your routines.
5. Invite intimacy into your relationships.
“The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.” – Audre Lorde
To be intimate is to be authentic and vulnerable. While we often limit this type of closeness to romantic relationships, it doesn’t have to be that way. In this moment where many of us are physically isolated, we need intimacy more than ever. We need people we feel safe sharing with and who we can be in healthy emotional exchange with. Reach out to someone (or a group of people) you trust and commit to a regular check-in where you can honestly share how you’re feeling.
If intimacy with another person proves intimidating, you can also practice intimacy with yourself. Journaling, recording voice notes, and self-pleasure can be great ways of exploring your internal landscape.
Feature image by Cecilia Di Paolo