It’s A Marathon And A Sprint

Organizing around issues that carry real weight can be one of the most physically and emotionally exhausting tasks that we undertake as a members in society. The sheer amount of work that has to be done often dwarfs our understanding of our abilities. At the same time, the urgency of responding to each new crisis along the way pulls our attention from the larger picture and mires us in a never ending cycle of crises and response. When you step back and look at this dichotomy, it’s no wonder organizer burnout is so high right now. We have a monumental task in front of us, so when we have time to look at it in its entirety, there’s a feeling of helplessness that can set in. Compound that with only having the time to look at that larger task when we’re not responding to the immediate problem in front of us, and that leaves next to no space for self-care, community building, and strategy.

People often talk about movement work as a marathon. We’re not going to see the change we want in the next month, year, or even decade, but we can make progress towards it. These small incremental changes that will eventually manifest the world we want to see. What that misses, often, is that there’s work to be done right now, today, that is so urgent that it precludes the longer term efforts. It’s fine to acknowledge the work of abolishing police as a marathon, but when a community member is murdered by a police officer in the streets our response cannot be a cold “we’re working on it. This will be better for your great-grandchildren.” That person is dead. They will not have great-grandchildren. That work, of supporting the family in grief, of seeking justice for the person who was slain, must be handled swiftly and decisively. It is a sprint.

The challenge we face in this dichotomy has been ever more apparent over the last two years. With each new horror from the republican administration, or from the underbelly of America that they’ve managed to stir to the top, we shift into sprint mode. To defend immigrants, to protect Black communities against the terror of police officers and white supremacists — often the same individuals — we must act quickly. Quick action demands resources and time and attention, and we should give it those things. This work is important.

At the same time, we have to hold the long term needs of our community in our mind. If we invest all of our time and resources into responding, we never do anything pro-actively. We risk our response becoming impotent, lacking the larger image of what needs to change to actively remove the threats that are creating each crises. We call for prosecution of killer cops, further training; We need to recognize that alone will not solve the larger problem of a policing system built in racism and oppression. Long term proactive movements require time and resources as well, and we should give it those things. That work is important.

But what’s lost in that dichotomy is that there are real people, individuals and groups, doing this work. If we shift from emergency response to long-term organizing and back without ever taking the time to step back, to breath, to center ourselves along the way, we lose energy, we lose people, and eventually we just lose. That’s the long game that the Republicans are playing right now. Each new crises distracts us from proactive movement, and simultaneously sets us up for a massive new onslaught of long term work to fix the breaks they create. If we’re going to be able to do this work, both long term and reaction, we must also care for ourselves. You can’t win a marathon without conditioning, you can’t run another sprint without a recovery period.

We need to start thinking strategically about long-term goals, short-term needs, and balancing both of those with holistic self-care and community care. How can we support each other so that the immediate emergency response needs of our communities are met, while also maintaining constant and proactive pressure on the long-term changes we want to see in the world?

Adrienne Maree Brown, in her book “Emergent Strategy,” talks about how the world is composed of fractals. Essentially, that what we practice on a personal level informs how the world is shaped at a larger level. We need to apply this to our movement work. If we want to see a healthier world tomorrow, we need to act more healthfully in our own lives. Show compassion for those around us, recognize our limits and operate within them, and be clear about what needs we see that aren’t getting filled — both for ourselves, and for our communities.

What would it look like, if we coordinated with each other so we knew that the immediate needs of the community were being met at each new crises point, while also sustaining our ongoing work for tomorrow? How could we shift our behavior on a personal and community level so that we’re supporting each other with our time and resources, rather than working in fear of scarcity? These are questions I don’t have immediate answers for, but they are what is occupying my mind more and more of late. I think if we want to see the world we’ve imagined, if we want to really “win,” we’re going to need to find some answers. They don’t need to be perfect answers, they can be working concepts, but we need to start talking about it as a community if we want to see the progress we talk about. Continuing those conversations can become a part of our ongoing strategy, and incorporating that conversation as an ongoing tactic can bring us closer together and help us build a stronger and more inclusive future for everyone in our community. None of us are perfect, but we’re all out here trying, so let’s start trying together, intentionally.

Originally published at on August 13, 2018.



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