When I was young activist, I’d jump on the soapbox in a heartbeat. As I’ve aged as a grassroots organizer I’ve learned to not speak unless I’ve really got something worthwhile to share. On the other hand, whenever there is a march or a major political event I feel duty-bound to be making some sort of commentary on this blog.
I didn’t know what to add to the conversation after the March for our Lives. Until I saw her rage. Until I saw Emma Gonzalez stand there and cry in silence for six minutes and 22 seconds. Then I knew. We need to talk about using rage as a tool within organizing.
Sometimes when faced with injustice, the only logical reaction is to become enraged, totally and overwhelmingly consumed with rage. And when used correctly, this rage can carry us great distances in organizing. But how to do that?
These kids are definitely bringing it when it comes to organizing lessons. Let’s take a look deeper into this one.
When tragedy comes you want to scream, but you can’t
When tragedy comes and steals your loved ones, it rocks the ground you stand on. Like an earthquake, it leaves you wondering what direction is up, and where you will be safe again. It also rocks your community. Afterwards everyone comes to talk to you, because you were at the epicenter. You must have an opinion.
You want to scream. Scream with overwhelm. Scream with rage. Scream with loss. Scream with the agony others are laying at your feet.
You resist that pressure so that you can breathe and function. Life has to go on. For you. For others. But all that pain has to go somewhere. There’s too much for it to stay inside of you. So instead of screaming you turn that rage into a tool. You ORGANIZE. And it IS screaming of a different sort. I’ve walked those halls; I can tell you that is exactly how it feels.
Anger is Powerful
I’m here to tell you that it’s ok to get angry. Those kids in Florida are as mad as hell, and look where it’s getting them. Stephon Clark‘s family is mad as hell, and they are pulling Sacramento, CA to a halt. Rage can be a weapon for good. Like any weapon just make sure you’re pointing it in the right direction.
Rage is one of the most powerful tools an activist has. It is energizing. It’s also cathartic. It burns and it cleans and it heals.
We’re not supposed to feel rage in our society. Unless you’re a prizefighter, you’re really not allowed to have it. It doesn’t matter that there’s a lot to be angry at these days. We suppress it, shove it down. Freud is famous for stating that depression is anger turned inwards. So it’s no coincidence that depression is epidemic these days. Especially for women. Our society takes one look at our too-serious resting-bitch-face and says “smile, sweetheart.” Turn it inwards, sweetheart, don’t let me see it. And there is a large body of evidence that women have have higher rates of depression than men. Huh. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
I say let it loose. Unleash it. Dig it up from where you hid it. Release it from its Pandora’s box.
Point it in the right direction
Here’s what you need to do with your anger. You need to identify two things and do one more:
1. Find the source of your rage
What is it that hurt you? What is it that shook your bedrock so hard that you’ll never go back to being the same person? Maybe you’re just feeling extra exhausted, extra run-down, that it’s taking all your energy to be that smiling, happy person on the outside. Stop for a moment and take a look at what it is exactly where all your energy is draining.
Once you have identified the source of your outrage, what to do with it?
2. Identify a target for your rage related to the source that is moveable
This is important. It is not enough to just get angry. Emma Gonzalez could have gotten mad at the shooter. She could have gotten mad at his parents. She could have gotten mad at the people who sold him the guns. It is unlikely that any of those people will change their actions with her rage. Instead, she pointed her rage at the legislators who allowed permissive gun laws to exist. Because public opinion, legislators, and laws you can move.
What happens if we don’t identify a moveable target? At a certain point, the anger turns inwards again. Unable to make outward change, it bounces back at us. I’m sure we all know someone who feels disenfranchized with the political system and is angry and depressed as a result? It’s because they feel that nothing they can do will move things. They have lost hope, and all that anger has washed back over them and is now drowning them in depression.
Pick something you can move. It can be a small piece of local legislation, or it can be as large as public opinion and legislation around gun laws and police violence. But target your anger at something related to the source of your hurt that is actually moveable.
Show your rage, point it at a solveable problem, and it will be a call to others who feel the same. They will be attracted to you, to your campaign for justice, and you will find solidarity in numbers, and healing in the shared stories. Which leads us to…
3. Find other people who are feeling the same way
All those people who came and laid their agony at your feet because you were at ground-zero? Go find them. Go find other people who like yourself were directly affected. Don’t do this alone. Lean on others.
Don’t believe that it can be done? Glennon Doyle got angry about the situation of the Syrian refugees, called out to others who felt the same, and raised over $1.2 million in a matter of days–all in small contributions. Never doubt the strength of a bunch of people all applying their energy in the same direction. Or, in more famous words:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
And that, my friend, is the essence of grassroots organizing: getting angry at an injustice, finding others who feel they same way you do, and joining together for social change.
What makes you angry?
One of the best things to do when you are feeling depressed about politics is to do more not less. Why? It is because of this concept of rage.
If we feel angry about the things that are wrong in the world and do nothing, the rage turns inwards and starts to eat away at us. We often don’t realize that is what just happened, we just feel dragged down. If we identify and turn the rage outwards we not only get a positive release, we might just help solve some of the problem that was bothering us in the first place.
So what makes you angry? What is a target related to that anger that can moved with your efforts? Where can you find other people like yourself that feel the same?
Tell us what makes you angry and where you’re putting that anger!
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