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Reflections on Activism Fatigue

By Emma Tindale

It’s a remarkable thing, social movement. 

The opportunity to reflect beyond yourself, to want more for society, for people you’ve never met and never will. 

Yet the strenuous battle of progression can take its toll on us as individuals as we seek to make changes in the world. It takes its toll on me. 

We go to climate change rallies, protest outside Kirribilli house, sign petitions for LGBTQIA+ rights, buy keep cups, recycle, call out misogyny on Twitter, share posts calling out racist politicians. The conversation is endless, propitious and exhausting. 

Social media bombards me with different campaigns, movements, issues. I choose to follow the progression, but I often switch off, turn away from discussions.

I find myself oscillating between despondency and optimism. How can one individual make any change? But change starts with the people, right?

The thing is, I’m lucky. When I’m overwhelmed by the abundance of social movements to care about and feel stuck by my inability to make changes, I can turn away. What a privilege it is to have other distractions, to not be directly faced by these issues daily. 

I want to care about it all. I want to divide my time, yet there’s often a guilt that comes with this care. If I put too much time into climate change, am I neglecting to fight for women’s rights? 

Social movement fatigue is a curse that we must endure. We can’t afford to surrender to fears of ruin or of the perpetual inadequacy which a single individual may feel struggling against broken systems. 

I want to speak up about the systemic oppression of women each day, and some days I just can’t be bothered. I want to tell my friends to recycle, to buy less fast fashion, and not condemn them or myself when we forget to practise what we preach. 

If we’re really going to move forward, we need to discuss the fatigue and guilt that comes with social movements. We’re having so many conversations about the bigger picture, and often hide what these movements can do to our mental health. We’re often able to do little about the exhaustion of wanting to care about everything,

We can use our analytical lens of society to forgive ourselves when we just can’t do it all, when we can’t live up to paradigms of perfection, and be thankful that we can step away. 

I never thought I’d need to protest for anything. Perhaps that was just plain ignorance, but growing up in a small country town it just wasn’t a reality for me. I used to look at the black-and-white images of people striding through streets, chanting in chorus, of women burning bras, and think of how empowered and determined they looked. That was just part of history, it was so far gone.  

While I admired these images, I was grateful for the distance between my life and theirs.  

I realise now that I created that distance in my head.