Welcome to Activist Land!

Activist Land provides tools and a pragmatic forum for the progressive activist community. It aims to complement traditional political blogs by emphasizing how you can get involved in specific issues and how to integrate activism into your life in an effective and sustainable way. Therefore, in addition to calling for action on a particular issue, it encourages people to post "activism opportunity" posts that describe the nuts and bolts of how one would, or did, take action in a particular instance.

My main area of focus is media reform. I've been working with Save Boston's Progressive Talk to help bring progressive talk radio to Boston, and I've written interviews to publicize "The Real News", an independent international news network. My secondary area of focus is election integrity. I maintain a set of Voting Rights pages with an emphasis on an election integrity timeline. I've written pieces on these and other subjects for Daily Kos and my local newspaper. For more info, see my first post. Come and join the community!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"The Lifelong Activist" in Activist Land

I'd like to introduce you to Hillary Rettig and The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way, her guide to living a sane life as an activist. Her ideas are both provocative and comforting. I've been grappling with them ever since I encountered the book. I plan to explore her ideas in future posts on this blog.

I first heard about The Lifelong Activist through a diary on Daily Kos:

Book Review: Hillary Rettig's "The Lifelong Activist" by SusanG (December 4, 2006)

Susan begins with a short introductory quote from the book:

Activism is the act of influencing a person or group of people with the goal of eliciting a desired behavioral change.

and continues:

If I had but one book to spend hard-earned cash on this year, this one would be it, hands down.

Lifelong Activist is a unique and luscious hybrid, part inspirational tract and part practical textbook on sustaining effective and dedicated activism over the long, long haul.

The author, a business coach involved in progressive causes, brings her approach in training entrepreneurs for success to the realm of political involvement, adapting pragmatic and measurable exercises to the personal realm.

Admitting from the get-go that one of the biggest problems facing progressive activists is burn-out with its accompanying guilt and joylessness, Rettig begins the book by walking the reader through the logic of taking care of yourself, which includes your health, your personal relationships and – yes, it’s true, despite the pushback Rettig admits she gets on this final issue – your financial stability.

Intrigued, I bought the book. Later, I found this Daily Kos review, which expands on the first one:

The Lifelong Activist by Kossack Hillary Rettig by OrangeClouds115 (January 18, 2007)

I wrote my own review on Amazon:

"The Lifelong Activist" is clearly written and a pleasure to read. But reading it is the easy part. Hillary Rettig, the author, is an animal activist who periodically refers to "companion animals" (the non-hierarchical version of "pets," I suppose), and the book reminds me of having a friendly but persistent snout being wedged into my hand to remind me that it's time to get off the couch and out the door.

The goal towards which the book nudges the reader is not necessarily full-throttle activism, but rather a searching examination of oneself followed by a dedication to whichever level of activism makes sense. Definitely a worthy goal. But by no means simple.

One of the ways in which Rettig helps out the reader is by giving some ideas of potential blocks and how they can be overcome. She aims mostly at target readers who are young, idealistic, and suspicious of anything suggestive of the corporate world. They dream of being consummate activists -- throwing themselves with complete abandon into every cause under the sun -- but feel guilty about their desires for a comfortable personal life. Rettig, by contrast, insists on finding balance between activist work and material needs, and spends about a third of the book promoting marketing concepts for activists as a means for convincing audiences. I can imagine such readers being struck by her insight, and channeling their newfound energy into a more productive approach toward engagement with the world.

Readers who are not as hard to persuade might not find the book as much of a catalyst, however. And a catalyst is clearly what is needed to get a disorganized person organized enough to do the exercises that will take one the rest of the way. Rettig does offer help in that regard: compassion, thought-provoking anecdotes, downloadable charts, exhortations to be playful. The book itself, however, is rather earnest. Those who are used to reading activist blogs may find Rettig's book lacking in snark (humor with an edge). I actually found that a selling point, however. While snark is entertaining, it can ultimately be distracting. And Rettig's book is about acknowledging the limited number of waking hours in a week (112, more or less), writing up a schedule, and then getting to work -- in a healthy way, of course.

If Rettig writes a second edition or sequel, in addition to choosing a more colorful cover (the path winding up the grassy hill is a great image, but why must it be in black and white?), I would like to see her address the central question of WHY to structure one's life around activism -- or not. In this regard, readers are mostly on their own. Of course, Rettig can't answer those questions for her readers, but she could spend some more effort marshalling insights and anecdotes, much as she does in her attempt to convince would-be martyrs that self-denial is not a sustainable strategy.

Rettig makes frequent appearances in the Boston area, where she lives and works as a life coach. (In fact, tomorrow I'll be going to hear her speak at a local vegetarian restaurant.) She maintains a blog, where she posts short essays, information about her schedule, and clips of interviews. Check out her site if you'd like to learn more. But do it now. You only have so many hours in a week...

And indeed, my hours for this day have run out. But I will tell you more about the book soon.

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