“I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day, and then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
-climate activist Greta Thunberg
“Hope is not something that you have. Hope is something you create with your actions.”
-Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
How can you be useful in activism when you’ve lost hope? In all the same ways you’re useful in activism when you have it. Hope is an emotion, like any other. It comes and goes. The work of protest, activism, resistance – it can’t depend on the presence of a single emotion. That denies you being able to be a real person within that work, and that will burn you out much faster than simply being hopeless for a time will.
Don’t despair that you can’t find hope; do the work to change things.
Despair can be its own convenience. Despair is a tool Trump, Pence, and Republicans sell you to convince yourself the endpoint you fear is inevitable. Despair can quickly become a comfort in powerlessness.
If you don’t feel hopeful, that’s OK. Hope isn’t the goal. Hope isn’t an accomplishment. The work to change things is.
There are days when I’ve called or researched threats or protested when I had a great deal of hope. There are days when I’ve had none.
You’re told always to hope, and that’s good if you can have it. Some days you don’t, and that’s OK. Still do the work. If you’ve done the work and need self-care to get yourself back up to doing the work again, that’s one thing.
If you refrain from doing the work to change things because you have no hope, hope is not always the fuel for that work. It can be. So can other things. Often, hope is manufactured by the work you do. Despair is chased out by standing up for yourself and others. Hope is a byproduct as well as a source.
If you give up hope, that’s OK. It’s tough to come by sometimes. If you give up the work to change things, that’s not OK. That produces hope for yourself and others, bolsters the work of others, encourages others to do that work.
We’re often told the opposite of fear and despair is hope. It can be. That’s legitimate. It’s not your only resource, though. You wouldn’t need resilience if you always had hope. You wouldn’t need persistence if you always had hope. You wouldn’t need the twinning of empathy and anger on its behalf if you always had hope.
You cannot work just from hope. You cannot expect hope to be your only fuel. You have to be a full person to do this work. You have to be a full person to do your best to help others. You have to be a full person to keep hold of your norms.
It’s OK to feel hopeless some days. It’s OK to get knocked down, take a minute to stand again, and then stand again because if they have to knock you down again they can’t do it to someone else. It’s OK to build your hope up again through other emotions.
Bring everything that you are to the work of activism and creating change. Some people aren’t strong in hope. You may be strong in resilience, or fortitude, or consistency, or translating needs between communities, or empathizing, or the anger that bridges empathy to action, or logistics, or you may be a range of talents and emotions that you don’t know how to wrangle together. Each of those can make change even when hope runs low.
Trust yourself to do the work that makes change. Trust the strengths that you have to make change even if they don’t match a quote or memes or whatever it is. You’re not an inspirational quote, and you can’t do the work as if you are. That would be exhausting.
You’re a human being, inherently uneven, strong in some ways, weak in others. Even when you’re impacted by horrors every day, that full human can be resilient, can call upon hope for action one day, anger for effort the next, communicate and self-care the day after, resilience to do the work again, whatever beautiful combination in you works because it’s the way you work.
The work to change things needs effort from different people, with different backgrounds, with different combinations of strengths, some optimistic, some pessimistic, some reassuring, others needing reassurance, but all doing that work to apply the pressure needed to change what is happening.
Hope alone does not accomplish a goal. It needs to be fused to the work of change, as a thousand other emotions can be. It is OK if hope has escaped you for the moment. It is OK if you’re a person who doesn’t feel hope in the first place. There are so many valid emotions that can help people. Make sure you can sustain yourself, and then help others regardless of whether you do so out of hope or empathy or anger or whatever emotion allows you to translate what is happening and act on helping people.
Be a part of a community that can supply some of what you’re drained on in a healthy way, but never feel bad if you can’t meet the standard of an inspirational quote about hope. The quotes about effort and work and anger have a tendency not to survive or get shared or be prized in the ways quotes about hope can be.
Hope is important. It’s not the only important thing. If it’s missing from you, that means you’re human and reacting to what’s going on. Sometimes it’s missing from me, too. Sometimes it’s so hard to find. I still do the work of activism in the ways I can, and sometimes that produces more hope in me, and sometimes it doesn’t.
One thing it does do, though – it keeps me from buying into the illusion that we’re powerless. It shows me the ways in which we’ve eroded Trump, Pence, and Republicans, the ways we’ve given them less ground to stand on, the ways we’ve clarified their barbarity to a larger public. It makes the ways we’ve slowed them down clearer, the people who are safer because of someone’s work clearer, the routes toward helping people clearer.
We wouldn’t need resistance, resilience, persistence, or any of the other things we celebrate if we were hopeful all the time. We wouldn’t need self-care if we were hopeful all the time. We wouldn’t need to reach out and do this with wider communities if we were hopeful all the time. Hope is one thing, important and inspiring. It is not essential all the time. If you lost it, it is OK. Bring the rest of yourself to bear, and witness that the rest of who you are can be effective, can create change, can even restore your hope or allow it to be restored by others.
Don’t despair. Just do whatever step is next in the work to change things.
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