When activism feels fruitless, remember: All forward motion counts - Generocity Philly


Feb. 6, 2019 8:56 am

When activism feels fruitless, remember: All forward motion counts

If you can’t see how your actions and donations are moving the big needle, think of the little needles that you’re moving every time you show up to do the work, writes How to Give columnist Lansie Sylvia.

"Resist" signs at the first Women's March.

(Photo by Flickr user C P, used under a Creative Commons license)

How to Give” is a monthly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, tweet @FancyLansie.


I’ve been volunteering and donating a lot more in the past six months because it feels like the moment demands it. My challenge is that I don’t really feel good about it. I feel like everything I do is just a drop in the bucket and nothing I do really matters. The more I learn about the issues I care about, the less effective my own efforts feel — but then I feel selfish for feeling that way, which leads to guilt and then defeatism. I guess I don’t have a question but am just looking for general advice.

Oh, my sweet summer child, I feel you. I really do.

What Instagram stories of marches and cute vids of congressional reps dancing don’t show us is that the struggle, in reality, is actually quite real!

We’re in a time where oppressive laws are being put on the books with alarming speed and the intricacy of the topics and loopholes and wedge issues at play is vast. I used to joke to my activist friends that if we really wanted to make a difference, we’d all go to law school, and that joke is feeling way less funny now.

But here’s what hasn’t changed: People still need to show up for anything to get done. Organizations still need money to keep the lights on and the healthcare for their employees a-flowing. What you are doing matters and feelings aren’t facts. That last part is from my mom. This next one is too, and it’s central to the way I live my life: all forward motion counts.

All forward motion counts.

If you can’t see how your actions and donations are moving the big needle, think of the little needles that you’re moving every time you show up to do the work.

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Consider this example: You volunteer for an advocacy group. You write letters to your senator. You devote your Tuesdays to Toomey, and yet some evil, vile law gets passed anyway. Was it all in vain?

When I consider it a gift to be of service to others, not an obligation, that is when I feel most fulfilled and energized. .

It can feel like that. I have felt like that.

But then think of each meeting you went to and the support you showed to the organizers. You demonstrated confidence in them and showed them that they mattered, at the very least, to you. That counts.

You stood up for what you believe in. That counts.

You stood in solidarity with others. You validated their lived experience and helped them feel supported in a time of need. That counts.

You provided financial resources for an organization and no donation is too small. Name tags for an event? Those cost $8 and they help people know each other. So that counts.

All forward motion counts.

Whenever I’ve feeling defeated, I remember that all forward motion counts, and that to be of service is a gift. Those are my two go-to mantras when the world feels immense (which it is) and out of control (which is debatable).

I know it’s going to sound very SuperSoul Sunday, but for me, and element of spirituality and gratitude is crucial to my own understanding of “being of service,” which is how I reframe volunteering.

When I am burnt out, defeated, and unable to see the light at the end of the struggle, I remember one thing: how many people have helped me. How many people have been of service to me and to my health, wellness, success, employment, emotional development, good nature, strong character … the list goes on and on. In my life, the amount of support I’ve received approaches the divine. That well is deep.

And when I consider it a gift to be of service to others, not an obligation, that is when I feel most fulfilled and energized. When I see that it is something that I get to do (yay!), not something I’m forced to do, whether by others or the pressure I feel upon myself.

Finally, consider this: You might not be in the right organization, or in the right role within that organization. Maybe you’re an introvert that keeps going to giant marches, or an extrovert that’s doing a ton of (very important!) desk work. That’s not going to feel good, no matter how righteous the cause.

As I’ve detailed before, there are tons of ways to be of service to others and it is not selfish to find a role that best suits your needs and desires. It’s far better to take some time off and explore new options to discover where you feel most fulfilled over shoving yourself into something because you feel “the moment demands it.”

There’s a spot for you. Go find it and remember that even in the depths of winter, spring is right around the corner.


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