I’ve never seriously disengaged from activism (though there was that period of 4 years or so where I only did non-enviro things and merely collected newspaper clippings of the planet’s acceleration towards ecological debacle). And so it had literally never occurred to me to think about the barriers to someone who had been involved and “left” becoming re-involved, beyond the mechanical reasons of “biographical availability” – kids and careers, spouses and houses. Here, in no particular order, is a list of things that might be going through people’s heads when they receive a personalised invite from someone to “get back in the game.”
Of course, much of this is specific to people who’ve a) drifted away from movements that were disintegrating, with a taste of failure in their mouths, or b) made an abrupt “I’m mad as hell but I can’t take this anymore” decision. Those who left on good terms are less likely to feel the antipathy listed below. And also this*
*The length of time that you’ve been “out”, how “out” you’ve been, whether there are still friends on the “in” who could help you back in, and whether you are planning to get back “in” on your own or if there’s a pair or even a bunch of you to help each other acclimatise. As ever with humans, lots of variables, lots of imponderables.
- Bad memories – every time something goes wrong in the campaign, or in the group’s dynamices, it will trigger fear of where this is heading “here we go again”
- Social pressure from people – “it made you so unhappy last time, if it makes you unhappy again, I am so going to say “I told you so”
- Lack of a sense that it is going to be any different this time round, but just another spiral of hardening cliques and feuds, overwork and under-result, political betrayal, compromise and failure.
- Sense that this is a closed chapter in your life, that you are now ‘older and wiser’
- Loss of optimism/growth of cynicism – hard to commit, especially if it DOES go wrong again, you’ll blame yourself – “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”
- Unresolved anger at yourself for having been “fooled” for having stuck around as long as you did the first time
- Unresolved conflicts with other individuals who never left and are still involved (especially if they are even the tiniest bit smug about not having given up the fight).
- Conversely, fear of being significantly older than the other people in the group, and having different levels of energy and naivety.
- Not wanting to interfere in what you can call someone else’s struggle – “they have to make their own mistakes – they wouldn’t listen to an old fart like me, and nor should they.”