Re-activism – barriers to getting back in the game…

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.”

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2 Responses to Re-activism – barriers to getting back in the game…

  1. rhizome says:

    Good start, though as you say predicated on leaving first time around with a bad taste in the mouth.

    There’s quite a few possible additions:
    *Social anxiety – a lot of us find groups intimidating, at least at first. Perhaps after a while that lessens as we get to know folk and begin to feel ‘one of the gang’. Starting all that from scratch…..
    *The sheer hard work of getting involved. To feel one of the gang can take a lot of effort. Maybe you feel that you need to be seen to be active and committed enough to avoid being labeled a ‘lightweight’. Maybe you feel that only by working as hard as the most active are you making a difference. You mention legitimate peripheral participation regularly on this blog, so no need to say more
    *Group culture evolves and changes and it can be a real effort to recognise, understand and then implement the new ways of working. For example you might need to learn a completely new set of hand signals – these seem to changing under the influence of US Occupy culture
    *The equating of new to the group with having no relevant skills or experience. This is a real problem in some groups. It can, sadly, be rare for groups to understand that newcomers bring a wealth of resources, let alone invite them to share their experience, knowledge or ideas. The assumption is that the group is wise and the newcomer needs to learn. Maybe older men are credited with the possibility of relevant prior experience, but for a younger person, especially a younger woman….
    *Ego. Let’s face it, it can bruise the ego to get back involved and see a whole load of dedicated, competent people who are doing just fine without you. It can remind you that first time around you played all the ego-games to feel involved. You left newcomers feeling excluded from the inner circle, and now you feel that way. Ouch!

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