Activist IS a Real Job!

“You seem to have a lot of free time on your hands. Some of us have to work.”

If you are an activist of some kind, you’ve probably heard those words or some variation on them. Well, I’m here to assure you, activist IS a real job, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

More in a bit, getting ready to make coffee and read the daily news right now. (Just got back from scoring a curbside haul of some leaves that some other homeowner thought were trash, but my yard knows are treasure.)

OK I’m back.

Environmental activists. Peace activists. Anti-racist activists. Grassroots educators. Social-justice activists of all stripes. We are so often labeled as freaks and troublemakers and loonies. (All the more so if we are non-male, non-white, non-cis, or all of the above.) And hear people tell us “Get a job! You have too much time on your hands!”

— As if:

1) making time to prioritize the work we feel deeply called to do is a sign that we have “too much time on our hands.” When actually, what we are is good at deliberately managing our time and energy and oh by the way also our MONEY; and

2) their chosen work is “real,” whereas ours is not.

People who clear land and cut down trees for a living are not engaged in more “real” work than people who set out to protect trees and preserve land. Neither are people who go to war on the order of the government engaged in more “real” work than people who feel called to be warriors on behalf of Mother Earth, or warriors for peace and social justice.

People who perform surgery or dispense medicines for a living are not engaged in more “real” work than people who embark on a path of healing earth’s ecosystems.

Many (most) activists are not paid for their activist work, whereas the people working “real jobs” get a steady paycheck (as well as lots of social admiration).

I’m not knocking any honest thing someone chooses to do for a living. But activism is a “real job,” just as mixing concrete or building roads or constructing buildings is.

This goes out to all of you, my fellow activists.

For all of you who have ever gone hungry or run on too little sleep or otherwise traded your health and comfort to protect the planet, rally for peace, call out injustice, push to ensure equity for all fellow humans, or whatever your chosen “lane” is.

For all of you who have sat at a dinner of “successful” family or friends and felt like you needed to apologize or hide for not being financially successful or having a prestigious profession.

For all of you who’ve burned the candle at both ends, working a “money job” that isn’t your calling, to subsidize your REAL job, the one that doesn’t pay.

For all of you who’ve ever been homeless, or near-homeless, because you knew that the life-energy you’d need to work a “real job” (40 to 50 to 60-hour week, steady paycheck, W2 thing) would crowd out your activism and that was not an option ever never now or ever, so instead you patch together a living gig to gig: cleaning houses, clearing brush, or whatever other odd jobs you can find, whatever it takes.

And speaking of patching together, this is for all of you who run yourselves threadbare trying to catch every paying gig when the fat times come, because you know the lean times are so, so lean.

For all of you who’ve put yourselves in harm’s way for the greater good with no hope of an official government seal of approval; no promise of glory.

For all of you who have ever sat with tears streaming down your face, and wanted to scream or tear your hair out (and maybe did so), because you had something really important to say or ask, and couldn’t get a single living soul around you to listen.

For all of you who’ve really needed help but refused to ask for help, and made a big mess of things and ended up hating yourself, instead of hating the situation you were trying to fix.

For all of you who’ve ever gotten egg on your face when you didn’t have your facts straight, or you said the wrong thing, or you didn’t communicate though the appropriate channel — but instead of using this as an excuse to quit and slink away, you had the humility and integrity to admit you were wrong, correct yourself, pick yourself up, and keep right on doing your work.

For all of you dealing with serious chronic health issues (mental, physical, or both) who have felt that your issues made you ill-equipped to bring to the work that is your calling the full strength you wanted to bring to it, but you keep doing it anyway, giving it whatever you’ve got because no one else is showing up to do quite what you do, fill quite the niche you fill — and if you don’t do it who will?

For all of you who’ve ever been shamed, chastised, castigated for getting emotional in the line of duty. As if “ability to stay calm, cool, and collected” were the highest measure of what constitutes a true professional — when actually, isn’t passion and relentless dedication a better measure?

For all of you who’ve ever been dismissed as “not a real professional” for not having a bunch of letters and degrees after your name. Never mind that long after the paid professionals have clocked out for the night or the weekend, you’re still going like gangbusters. And never mind that while nothing could get you to quit your so-called “not a real job,” they’d leave their so-called “real jobs” in a heartbeat to go work somewhere else for a fancier title or a two-bit raise.

For all of you who’ve endured being branded crazy or a loser, while the real crazies and losers plunder natural resources, exploit workers, and extract wealth from underprivileged communities.

For all of you who’ve ever been told, “Oh, I used to be a dreamer like you, but then I grew up and faced reality.” Or, “Give up. It’s too late” — and you totally refused to buy into that; just let it dart glance right off your activist heart-armor like an annoying little mosquito off an armored tank!

For all of you, my fellow earth-loving, tree-hugging, peace-clamoring, social-justice-fighting, battle-bruised, unpaid undecorated foot-soldiers: Activism is a real job. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

By the way, musicians and artists of all media, you too are included in this tribute. Art is absolutely a form of activism too.