Passion and pressure in activism

Kailani Jackson is a sophomore international studies major.

When we study great civil rights demonstrators, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malala Yousafzai, and praise them for their dedication to their causes, we might wonder why we can’t be as impactful and committed as them. Why can’t we save the world? Why does it seem like what they were able to do as individuals was enough to change everything, but our generation is just swept along with the next great issue to face? These passionate individuals seem like giants to me, and in comparison, I am only a tiny college-aged ant. How do we fight without losing ourselves in the process? 

The convergence of a global health crisis fraught with financial uncertainty along with an impending election has put a distinct kind of pressure on every person interested in promoting equity through their actions. We, as college students, need to look at political activism as a lifelong goal, not a sprint to the finish. However, as Taylor King, a student leader of Students Demand Action, an activist group advocating for stricter gun laws, said, “Your efforts aren’t wasted just because the revolution hasn’t arrived yet.” 

To see activism as a goal rather than a sprint also means supporting yourself alongside supporting others, in other words, prioritize your passions over “doing it all.” Burning out or becoming apathetic early on will make it more difficult for us to carry out continuous efforts for change as we enter the workforce and become the majority of voters. Unfortunately, the current trend of advocating for causes as soon as they cross your path, like on social media, fosters the idea that we should only focus on performing work that grants us immediate results. We need long term change that we can continue to support, without becoming overwhelmed and jaded. 

So, what does channeling King’s passion look like in today’s age? Before we compare our lives to the lives of those of the past, we need to compare circumstances. For one, back then, the news was delivered via a physical newspaper twice a day, not as a steady, inescapable stream of information that is dispatched through a device that can fit in a pocket. The amount of media we take in is overwhelming, and quite frankly, supersaturated in bias (thanks to personal algorithms). Finding a platform that doesn’t throw us into an echo chamber is nearly impossible. Often, those tweets and stories and protests and rallies, and every other type of media that pushes a consumer to do something in response, become an overwhelming and unhelpful roar of, “You are not doing enough.” 

Further, activism once normally began in each community, right outside one’s front door. Support grew roots much slower, but also much deeper, in a way that allowed movements to blossom because of the dedication of passionate individuals. Advocates like Susan B. Anthony spent months traveling around the U.S. and canvassing to spread their messages to small audiences at a time. A call to action wasn’t just a few words then reaching a national audience in a split second — it was a calculated, methodical display of beliefs. People made choices based on passion, not just obligation. 

Of course, pressure and obligation to others will be one deciding factor for why you choose to support and advocate a certain position, but it should not be the only factor. There is so much surrounding why we do what we do as activists, and it is important to be the change we want to see. 

And honestly, all these online suggestions on how to save the world become another chore to add to the list. Passion is drained from the act. The way all of this media just wraps around anyone trying to do good and attempts to scramble everyone into action feels like a windstorm — one gust away from extinguishing that flame of passion that drives us and pushing us into burnout. This means concentrating on what you care about and dedicating yourself to see it through the whole fight, even if that means prioritizing some activism movements over others at a given moment in your life. 

There will always be someone more involved than you are in a given conflict because they have to be, chose to be, or need to be — supporting that person’s fight doesn’t have to mean your neverending support and constant vigilance, nor does it mean that your own work is insufficient. Small, everyday choices from each person will accumulate into a greater support network, and being conscious of your impact can help your passion continue to burn. Dons, keep working to change the world, however you can.

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