There are countless ways for us to reach out and share our messages. For those among us who choose to stay out of the spot light, this can be accomplished through making phone calls, sending emails, signing petitions and making donations. Each of these approaches allows for participation from the comfort of home, if not anonymously, then certainly without publicity. Even more public events such as rallies, marches and town hall meetings grant the opportunity to participate and make our voices heard without having to move into the spotlight. While it may be impossible to avoid media cameras, requests for interviews can be denied, we can move our physical location to the sidelines of an event and we can let our signs or a spokesperson represent our thoughts.
There are other, more “center stage” ways of being involved and I have been wondering lately what it is about those actions that call to me. After all, I was the performance dancer who sickened moments before going on stage! It can be a big step from attending an event to actually planning one, from listening to a speaker to being the speaker before an assembled crowd, from participating in chants to taking the bull horn and leading a group to a crescendo of voices. Recently, as I was returning from an event where I took part in two unanticipated on-camera interviews, I thought about three possible motivators for my participating in these ways. They are the “thank you” factor, the need to practice and hone my skills and setting an example that I hope others will use in developing the courage to take leadership roles.
The “thank you” factor comes when someone says, “Thank you for __________ (fill in the blank). That simple statement is an affirmation that what I am doing is of value to someone other than myself, that my goals are shared by others and I am not alone. Two small words can provide huge motivation to continue.
The second motivator is the need to practice those things that I believe must be done but that certainly do not fall within my comfort zone. Fear, self-doubt, uncertainty about my own abilities are all capable of stopping me before I get started if I allow that to happen. Had I allowed my dancer self to avoid taking the stage I would have missed out on some of the most joyous experiences I’ve had. The best way to get past a fear of public speaking is to speak out more often. The best way to overcome a belief that someone else will put together a better rally is to plan rally after rally and learn what the strengths and weaknesses of each event were – time after time – and keep getting better at it.
The third reason for “getting out there” is the one most important to me in the hope that it will inspire others to do the same. How many times have I witnessed leaders in action and thought that they must have some innate comfort zone that allows them to do something I can’t? How often have I assumed they all must have some magical talent that costs them nothing to do what they do? The answer is “too many!” At an event that my Activate CT cohorts and I put together this past May in Mystic Ct, I agreed to an interview with both an independent reporter and a reporter from an area newspaper. During one of those interviews I heard myself say that had anyone had told me four years ago I’d be planning rallies, speaking at town hall meetings, participating in radio and television interviews or meeting with elected officials personally to make my views heard, I would have called the whole idea folly but now I believe that if I can do it ANYONE can do it. For those of us who have reservations about our abilities it might take a few more “thank you” comments and a bit more practice and tense filled hours before we go into action but it can be done.
There are so many justice, environmental and economic issues that need attention. If we rely on a small number of people to take on spokesperson and other leadership roles to address them there will never be enough people to do the work that needs to be done. I believe it is up to all of us in the activist community to inspire, teach and support everyone in the community and help each other push aside our own perceived limitations that stand in the way of our becoming more effective and visible. We can do this by not only encouraging participation but offering to stand by each other (literally!) when we take on roles that are intimidating.
So, when I post my activities and accomplishments on facebook or share them with people in other ways, I am not doing so in order to say, “Look at what I did. I am special. I, I, I, I………” but rather to say, “Look at what I did. I am not special. You can do it, too!” The next step is to begin asking, “How can I help you get there?”