A black and white blurred photo of protestors. Only their arms are visible.

Social Justice Activists Can’t Always Fight for Everything, and That’s Okay

Whenever I have strength to walk around my neighborhood, I often find myself reflecting on how I got to where I’m at now. In comparison to a few years ago, my life is drastically better than I expected it to be. Three years ago, I was fresh out of college, couch surfing around LA and the Bay area, fully expecting to die before reaching 23 years old. All I had to look forward to was desperately searching for work and housing people wouldn’t give me, continuing to run out of money until likely ending up homeless on the street. Now, despite my current housing being unpleasant or unstable at times, I’ve managed to start saving money and begin looking into living on my own more comfortably.

I’ve talked about this with friends who have had similar windfalls in their life and found they feel the same way I do: happy to no longer be struggling, and yet also guilty. I feel guilty over the fact that not only are we starting to survive, but maybe we are also going to thrive. We might actually live long enough to have stability and happiness be part of our lives for a long time.

And something about that feels wrong. Living to this point seems unfair when others are long denied access to safety and security.

Don’t misunderstand me: I still worry about how I will cover rent once the new year rolls around. Therapy has been a constant concern and accessing it without eating away at the money I do have still remains a hassle. I often have to convince myself to not worry about spending too much on groceries and avoid falling back into old habits of restricting food intake to cut back on expenses. Regardless of these circumstances, I am still better off than a lot of people, in the world and even some of my friends. And I can’t help but feel guilty for that.

Much of this guilt comes from lessons I’ve learned from organizing in years past. In many activist circles I’ve been a part of, it was imperative to let the people affected most strongly by oppression take center stage. Those dealing with the heaviest burdens should take the lead in organizing as they often know better than people in a privileged position about what care they are being denied.  And, above all else, being willing to listen to those who call you out and demand better from your behavior will help you learn best. That is ultimately what being a good activist and, by extension, being a good person has meant to me. All I hope is to avoid being someone who lives comfortably at the expense of others.

But I can’t keep up with everything going on in the world. As rarely as I have the strength some days to walk around my neighborhood, I have even less energy to keep up with all the problems going on in our world. As often as I try to stay informed, I feel as though I frequently let people down by not talking about certain topics enough. Worse yet, any time spent trying to keep myself stable feels like time that could have gone elsewhere. Living and trying to do better for myself, to make a life not wracked with constant struggle feels like an insult to those who are dealing with worse.

I never want to stop caring. I never want to stop fighting for people who deserve better.  But I also can’t live my life feeling as though I am a terrible person for only doing what I can with the means that I have. I can only give so much of myself to any movement before I unravel at the seams.

The work of creating a better world is messy and complicated. I know I have fucked up before, judged people too harshly, and held such high standards that I’ve disappointed myself for years. But all the activists I’ve ever admired have had their own similar journeys of failures and mistakes they made and grew from. And as much as I have weathered the storm of the past years, I think I have forgotten something important in fighting for a better world for everyone: I am a person as well, and that means I deserve to be fought for as well.

If I am not willing to fight for my own personal liberation from trauma and oppression, how could I ever hope to create space to work towards the collective liberation of all?

True justice is healing in action. It doesn’t mean always keeping track of every single problem or ignoring the ones we lack energy for. It means creating better worlds for all those who need it, even if it just means ourselves for once.

I still wonder if I deserve the place I have in my life now and if I am doing enough to be a good person. But I’m realizing that isn’t what really matters. What matters is doing better for everyone: for the better world I want to see happen and for the me that never imagined making it this far.


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