(To turn the subtitles on, press play then move your cursor over the screen and click on the drop down which says ‘28 languages’ and choose English.)
I stumbled upon this video whilst looking for TED Talks to do with writing – Courtney E. Martin was one of the Editors of Feministing, and has written a number of books.
She talks about the three things that make for a lifetime of challenge and reward:
‘My mom and so many women like her have taught me that life is not about glory, or certainty, or security even. It’s about embracing the paradox. It’s about acting in the face of overwhelm. And it’s about loving people really well.’
– It spoke to me of something that has bothered me for a long time about my relationship with feminism and how I went through a period of disillusionment, as she also did. You have to step back for a while when a cause, something you feel passionate about, threatens to overwhelm you and burn you out. The anger that first comes when you go through consciousness-raising propels you forwards, and then finally, when nothing you do seems to make a difference, you feel despair, sadness and helplessness. This coincided with doing Women’s Studies, which helped me to move back from that helplessness and realise that actually, affecting change doesn’t necessarily need to be a huge action.
It takes courage to understand that we might embrace and champion for big, huge things – human rights, equality, the environment, immigration – but they seem insurmountable, and it is by understanding that the smaller, everyday achievements are often those of most value. By making someone’s day in some way, or writing a blog post, or article, or working on a book that might change someone’s mind or pull the veil back on something – we are affecting change. I had a struggle with what to do with my feminist blog once I had gone through the consciousness raising, the protests, the books. What do you do once all that doesn’t appear to change anything? Big causes are overwhelming. It was the comments, the posts in response to mine, that made me feel it was worth it. It might not have been a huge seachange, but it was there, and brought me towards writing.
Perhaps it takes generations to change anything on a large scale. What counts the most is that your voice is important – that one more voice adding to a collective voice makes it more possible to affect change. People do underestimate the power of speaking out, of making noise about something, signing petitions, linking to articles that make sense to them. Online activism is still going strong and it has the power to make governments uneasy. The voices of laypeople, like us, are now widely available, via blogs, Facebook, petition sites and Twitter. Twitter especially – I’m following people who want things to change, who are dissatisfied with the way things are and are making as much noise as possible about what is and isn’t right. This is empowering – to see that actually, it is possible to support something, be passionate about it, and not burn out or feel helpless. We are not helpless or apathetic.
‘What I learned from these people and others was that I couldn’t judge them based on their failure to meet their very lofty goals. Many of them are working in deeply intractable systems — the military, congress, the education system. But what they managed to do within those systems was be a humanizing force. And at the end of the day, what could possibly be more important than that? Cornel West says, “Of course it’s a failure. But how good a failure is it?” This isn’t to say we give up our wildest, biggest dreams. It’s to say we operate on two levels. On one, we really go after changing these broken systems of which we find ourselves a part. But on the other, we root our self-esteem in the daily acts of trying to make one person’s day more kind, more just.’ – Courtney E. Martin