On having arrived, for now at least

Two conversations come to mind.

The earliest: I’m at the piano, playing Ben Folds’ “Still Fighting It”, singing “It sucks to grow-up”. My sister earnestly tells me that the song is wrong. Apparently, my older brother Rowan had said so – “and he’s grown up.” Confident in the experience of my teenage self, I retorted something along the lines of “hardly”.

The second: I’ve just arrived in Melbourne from Canberra to attend Power Shift 2013. In a bar in Brunswick I’m enjoying a mulled wine while an inspirational friend ponders the sad phenomenon of young activists burning out and ‘quitting’ activism. Activism is something you can do with your life, not just your youth, he opined. It’s worth making sure you can last the distance.

These conversations come to mind as I reflect upon the fact that my life is perhaps more enjoyable than it has ever been. Not only in the day-to-day ‘that was a great party’ sense of enjoyable, but in the deeper, broader month-to-month ‘my life is rewarding’ sense. Another word I might use is “adult” but I suppose what I really mine is: “integrated”. I’ve never had such a sense of knowing what’s happening in my own life, that it fits together, and that I’d like it to continue thus forever.

I want to share this sense because it is directly linked to my practice as an activist.

I’m currently working with the ACT Greens as an Organiser, organising the energy of our members and supporters in order to grow our power and our ability to see our values reflected in legislation. Yet deciding to do this – and to keep doing this – was and is hard for me: I turned down an opportunity to be part of an audacious start-up company seeking to build capacity across the NGO sector, and it hurts every time I have to prioritise my work over an immediate, aching need, like Scott Ludlam’s re-election campaign, or the Leard State Forest Blockade. Yet in doing so I’m living out a principle that I’ve long known but only recently begun to practice: that true change takes time.

I’ve realised that I can make a difference in the ACT by staying here between elections, investing the years required to build the connections sustaining an invincible social movement. And in tandem with this is the realisation that activism isn’t my hobby, or a phase, or even just a job. Rather, activism is my work. It’s something more like how Mandela describes his relationship to politics, calling it not a “distraction” but his “lifework”: “an essential and fundamental part of [his] being.”

But of course many of us do a lot of activism and feel it’s really important. I can’t analyse others’ situations but certainly mine differs from my own past in one crucial respect: this time, the rest of my life is organised in a way that I can really imagine keeping doing this. I can feasibly entertain a scenario in which we would wait until the 2019 election to try to get a Greens senator elected in the ACT, because I can feasibly entertain a scenario in which I remain here that long. And I can only imagine keeping up the activism side of things for that long because I can imagine doing it in such a way that I keep enjoying my life here for that long.

This post is of course naive, and it feels ridiculous to write about adulthood at the tender age of twenty three. But what I want to mark is a milestone in my own life. This milestone is that suggested by my companion in the second conversation referenced above: the point at which activism was integrated within my life, not only being important, but important within the context of a richly-rounded and wholly-sustainable quality life.

I’m teaching myself Italian, eating healthily, spending great times with lovely people, and managing to play a board game at least once a week. In addition, I’m employed working on growing a community of people working to make this world a better place. This is what adulthood can be. This is what activism can be. It’s a wondrous thing. I’m not waiting anymore.

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One Response to “On having arrived, for now at least”

  1. Wonderful, and take it from one who has just turned 70, that it gets better! Thanks.

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