Why the world needs more imperfect activists

I’m finding it hard to blog right now, and it’s taken me a while to work out why.

There is of course the usual juggle of family and childcare and work, with a healthy dose of sleep deprivation thrown into the mix, but it’s not just that. My mind has been a whirr of ideas, of things I want to write about and things I want to do to try to contribute in whatever way I can to addressing the climate crisis. And it feels like whenever I am on the verge of actually getting words on the page to share my ideas or finally to commit to action there is a voice that pipes up telling me that it’s just not good enough: not complete enough, not important enough, not the Very Best Way I can be using my time.

This is not an unfamiliar feeling as a writer: that voice of self doubt is never far away when it comes to focusing my efforts on creative endeavours. The stakes are higher now though: as an activist, even more than as an artist, the confidence to silence self doubt is crucial.

The more I think about it the more I believe that this is one of the most significant things holding us back from achieving the critical mass we need to affect real change.

It is not easy to allow yourself to be imperfect when you are standing up for what you believe in.

First there is the criticism that comes from yourself – that feeling that anything you do is insignificant, that you are too small to fight the huge battles that need fighting. When that kicks in it is easy to start wondering what the point of doing anything is.

Even when you silence those internal voices there is criticism lurking round every corner.

The response to the Extinction Rebellion protests was really telling for me. There people were, having travelled to London from all over the country, taken time off work, put themselves at risk of arrest – all to draw attention to the climate crisis which threatens to engulf society. And whilst the reception was largely positive, it was impossible to ignore the voices of negativity creeping in. People were criticised for the mode of transport they had used to get there. They were criticised for drinking water out of plastic bottles, or eating takeaway food served up in single use packaging. They were criticised from some quarters for being too radical – and from others for not being radical enough.

People I know who supported the Extinction Rebellion protests in principle felt that they could not go themselves because they were just not ‘green’ enough: they recognised the limitations in their own personal actions and felt it would be hypocritical, or leave them vulnerable to judgement and challenge.

But the reality is that none of us are green enough. None of us are living in the way we really need to in order to propel the future of our planet in a different direction. We are all restricted by the realities of living in society as it is now: and it is the structures of that society that really need to change.

That is not to say that individual actions don’t matter: they do, very much.

We should all be mindful of the choices we make every day, and try to make them as sustainable as we can. What that looks like will be different for everyone. For some it will mean aspiring to producing zero waste, for others it will mean using public transport whenever they can. Some people will choose veganism, others will prioritise eating local and organic. There are a myriad of things that we can do, from carrying a reusable cup to refusing plastic straws, from fitting solar panels to rewilding the patches of land we have the privilege of being custodians over. Each and every one of these decisions is a step in the right direction – but if we can’t do as much as we’d like as an individual we shouldn’t feel disqualified from the environmental movement altogether. In fact quite the opposite.

What we need is a world in which these individual choices are easy – where it’s not more expensive or more difficult to opt for the path that is going to preserve the planet for our children. We need to be putting pressure on governments and corporations to make decisions on a macro level which will enable us to live our lives in a way which not only protects the environment we depend on but improves it. And those governments, those corporations – they need to be putting in place policies that will maximise the potential for humans to turn this world around.

Because our potential is huge.

If we could all put our shame to one side – our guilt for the comforts we have come to depend on, for not having taken decisive action before now – then this could be a time of immense promise. We need to accept the realities of the lives we have led up until now, to forgive ourselves for the choices we have made. It is only when we take this step that we will be able to open our hearts to the magnitude of the challenge we are facing, and set our minds upon the epic and essential task of finding solutions.

There will be mistakes made along the way of course. And not even mistakes: there is no escaping the fact that even in a time of planetary crisis our immediate needs, and those of our family, cannot be ignored.

But if we all step up, as willing and able imperfect activists, then we can fight this battle together.

And together we can win.

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