You might not have reached your ultimate goals in activism, but that just means you need to focus on your gains.
We’ve finally come to the last installment of our get Fit Activist Challenge – Charting Your Progress! When you start a fitness program, you try to find some way to measure your gains, whether in endurance gained, weights lifted, inches lost, or pounds dropped. You want to be able to look back to the beginning of your efforts and celebrate how much progress you’ve made. So too with activism; you want to keep track of all your victories and achievements, no matter how small.
Fighting for the things you believe in takes a lot of work, and often it can take years to achieve a goal. Depending on what you want to accomplish, the struggle might extend far into the future, and it may seem like you’ll never get there in your lifetime. How do you sustain the effort required to keep pushing, keep fighting, keep working, when what you want is so far away?
First, you do it by changing the way you think about your goals.
You’ve heard the saying ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. Right now your main goal might be off in the distant future, but there are a lot of steps to take between you and that goal. Looking only at the main goal from the beginning may make it seem too daunting a task. You might ask yourself ‘How am I ever going to get there?’ And that would be the exact question you need to ask.
Once you’ve set a goal, you should immediately begin to think about the steps to take to get there. For instance, if you want a particular law passed, your early steps should focus on the processes required to pass a law where you live. Then when you understand what needs to be done, you can tackle the people you’ll need to convince to support you. You can then build a timetable of actions to take, and deadlines to be mindful of, and so on.
When you break down the main goal into all the little tasks it takes to get there, you begin to see the course ahead of you. Instead of focusing on the summit of the mountain, you look to the next milestone, the next marker on the trail, the next bend in the road.
All this may seem like common sense here, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to have this discussion with people. They are so passionate about what they want, but they haven’t thought at all about how to get it. When I ask them ‘How do you get there? How do you make that happen?’ there’s usually a deflection to another topic, or they devolve into blaming others.
‘We need better schools!’
How do you make that a reality?
‘We need to throw the bums off the school board!’
So how do we do that?
‘We need to run people against them!’
So how do you find candidates?
‘We just need to find people to run who agree with us!’
And how do they run a winning campaign?
‘They just need to run against them/say they support X policy!’
Rarely do the people I’m talking about have a road map in mind. They look at the mountain in front of them and say: the mountain should be smaller, the roads should be straighter, the paths should be better lit. Some might never have made the connection between wanting to get up the mountain and TRYING TO CLIMB. You know these people too. For them it’s easier to yell about the mountain than to start figuring out a way to get up there. It’s less risky to stay on the ground and lament that the mountain is too hard to climb.
The mountain may take a long time to climb, but the more time you spend dwelling on how difficult it will be or who is to blame for making it so hard, the further you get from achieving your goal.
Another way you sustain the effort you need to make big changes is to celebrate every little victory. If you start a Facebook group to gather people to fight a bond issue, thank the people who join with every milestone. Did you get 100 people to join? Announce it proudly! Did 25 people join you in person at a board meeting to support a speaker? Brag about it! People need to see wins, even small ones; the habit of celebration helps even the most pessimistic of people on your team think more positively.
You also should celebrate wins when you might be losing. In fact, it might even be more important to celebrate them when it looks like your cause is suffering a setback. Did you spend a lot less supporting your issue than the opposition did trying to defeat it? Shout that from the rooftops! Did you collect a lot of little donations, whereas the opposition had only a handful of large donations? That’s NEWS. Did you learn anything from the campaign? Talk about it in detail. You can use the particulars of your setback to launch your next offensive, as long as you’re looking for the silver linings to celebrate. People get weary of losing over and over again, so make sure they see wins as well.
One thing that will tank your efforts at a long-term goal is exaggerating the results. These days we see a lot of headlines that read like:
- ‘This Little Girl Shut Down Senators Who Want To Starve School Kids’
- ‘This Guest Destroys Bill Maher On His Own Show’
- ‘This Host Obliterated a Trump Spokesman With Just Eight Words’
The temptation is great to replicate these kinds of statements when promoting your own causes. Don’t do it.
You don’t have to exaggerate your gains to make progress. If someone on your team makes a good argument, document it and celebrate it. Make it your business to film your advocates’ speeches and share them. Take pictures when you show up together to a meeting or event. Share blog posts or letters to the editor when they make your case well. If you engage in a Twitter campaign, show images of the stats. A small start isn’t anything to be ashamed of; it becomes the launching pad for future efforts, and an opportunity to tell a David and Goliath story of your own.
So from your Fitness Assessment back in Week 1 to showing off your gains, I hope this series has helped get you started on your activism journey, or supplemented what you’ve already begun. We may be at the end of this series, but trust me: we’re just beginning.