When I first created my Facebook profile ten years ago, one of the first things I said about myself was that I was an “activism junkie”. Women’s issues, gender issues, LGBTQ issues, disability issues, topics of race, religion and class. Why limit yourself to just one thing?
The first time I was called defiant was when I was five years old. I was watching over my friend’s house like they asked me to (they were six, and lived right across the street) but a neighbor who was actually tasked to watching the house yelled at me to get lost. I refused and stood my ground, literally. Instead of checking their backyard a few times a day, I basically set up camp there.
When I was seven my friend’s brother, who was a year older than me, was being physically harassed by three neighborhood bullies because he was overweight. These guys were in the fifth grade (I was in second) and one of them easily equaled three of me. I told them to cut it out and they turned their attention to me. I didn’t run, I glared at them and said to my friend’s brother, “Richard, run.”
The first political protest I started/organized was when I was fourteen and was protesting legislation banning same-sex unions (before those bans became popular in this country). I took arms against Fred Phelps for the first time when I was fifteen. I started nearly a dozen GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances), served as the youngest member of GLSEN’s (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) speaker bureau and went across the state advocating for safety in schools, speaking out against bullies and discrimination while promoting inclusive curriculums. I was awarded several scholarships for my activism, both undergraduate and graduate. I never stopped either.
By college, I was working several different crisis lines, leading several student organizations, acted as a victim advocate for LGBTQ and male domestic violence and sexual assault victims, leading protests, hosting concerts, organizing marches and even took down a professor for violating HIPPA and discriminating against three students with disabilities. I also might have accidentally started a peaceful protest/demonstration/riot. That “accident” was started with just me and one other person, and ended with campus police trying to disperse a crowd of over four-hundred.
(I’m actually quite proud of this, because it was on the National Day of Silence, so I wasn’t even speaking. Also, it was protesting a Fred Phelps wannabe that came to campus and was 100% unplanned – it just happened. People who weren’t participating in the Day of Silence were singing, others recited poetry and Dr. Suess stories as dramatic monologues. I helped make signs after the first hundred people joined. The preacher did not come back to campus for the rest of my tenure at the university – so at least eighteen months.)
I’ve been called an upstart, bleeding heart and social justice warrior. But here is the thing that I think would surprise most people: I don’t get some sort of high doing this work. I don’t thrive on confrontation, truth be told I don’t even like it. I hate feeling afraid and I am more tempted than I care to admit to just turning a blind eye to things. I would love to take a break. I would love to stop fighting and give the job to someone else. Except that I can’t.
After the election, my husband called me a warrior. He told me I would rise up, organize, push harder, be better, and come out stronger. But I was so done. I didn’t feel like a warrior, I didn’t know how I could possibly function as an advocate and then something struck me and I thought about what this all means.
I am an activist, a social justice champion and advocate – I have a warrior’s heart. I’m not a warrior because I like conflict – that’s not what a warrior is. In the dictionary a warrior is defined as a brave and experienced fighter; someone engaged in some sort of struggle or conflict.
A warrior doesn’t thrive on confrontation, they simply rise to the occasion. They don’t back down. They fight for what they feel is right. All right, so my bleeding heart belongs to that of a warrior.
In November, I felt so overextended and just so “done”. I felt hopeless and powerless and questioned the why and how of a lot of things. Why do I do this? Why do I fight?
The kneejerk response to this was surprising and always the same: Because somebody has to.
That was it. Because who would actually deliberately live like this? A lot of people don’t, because it’s hard or they do and then they stop. Because it’s hard. It’s a hard life, but no matter how hard it is, what would happen if all the warriors just packed it up and called it a day? What would that look like? What kind of world would be live in? No, it’s unfathomable. This is important work, and somebody has to do it.
The truth is this is who I am. From my very beginnings, I have always felt compelled to act. If I saw something that I saw as an injustice, I felt compelled to speak. If someone was hurting someone else, no matter who was doing the hurt and who was feeling the hurt – I felt the need to get involved and stop the hurt. This is who I have always been. It’s not a personality type, it’s almost like a calling. I know this because I feel that way about being a writer – that is also a calling. Not a hobby or a career, not even a choice but something deep within me that was activated at birth.
I’m not sure why I am the way that I am. Maybe it is a punishment for horrible deeds in a past life. Maybe it’s an honor, and when the universe, God or whatever you believe in made me and said, “You’ll be strong enough,” and then gave me the tools to do such important work. Maybe there is some childhood trauma that made me this way or maybe in some kind of way that I can’t see, this work feeds me.
Regardless, I can’t fight or resist the way that I am. Sometimes I feel too tired. Or spent. Or done. Or over it. But at the same time I can’t give it up. The more I feel like I want to break, the harder I push back. The more scared I am, the scarier I become. This is who I have always been, and now I realize that as much as I want to be “normal” and just settle into domestic bliss – I can’t. I’m simply not built that way.
As bad as things have been in the past, I feel like the next few years are going to be the largest-scale most epic fight yet. I feel like I’ve only participated in battles throughout my life, and I feel like now I’m headed off to war where there will be hundreds of battles, some I’ll surely lose and some I’ll be the victor. This knowledge makes me tired and fills me with a type of dread I can’t describe. It also makes my body tense and my mind sharpen, getting ready for what is coming.
I don’t want to be a warrior. I don’t want to feel this burning need to be an agent of change. I want to do nothing, even if that would make me selfish and/or oblivious. I want to let others fight the fight for me. But that’s the thing of a warrior’s heart – it doesn’t matter what it wants, because standing up and speaking out – helping others, righting wrongs, being strong when it doesn’t know how it can anymore – this is what it needs. Being a voice, making change is a compulsion, but also a restless and furious need. And the heart’s needs will always trump what the heart wants. Every single time.
I had to do some soul searching and consider: Why do I do this? Why do I feel the need to speak out? Why fight? Can I just be happy and let others carry on the work?
The why is because this is who I am. Can I stop being me – no. Why would anyone advise anyone not to be their most authentic selves? A warrior is brave and courage is not about looking for fights or seeking out hardship – it’s about not turning away from it. That is what my “period of pause” made me realize. I have always embraced truth but I have also felt a compulsion to snuff out any vulnerabilities within myself. I did it because I did not want these things to be exploited, it was strategic. Going forward however, I am going to embrace my weaknesses. I am going to use my fears and pain and the chinks in my armor as weapons. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but facing those fears head on. My vulnerabilities are parts of my truth, they don’t make me weaker, rather knowing them and sharing them help others struggling with their own. Yes, they can be exploited, but if someone is going to exploit them why shouldn’t that person be me? I talk so much in my writing and life about the transformative power of truth. These things are pieces of mine.
So my period of pause, this time I took for myself, was worth it. I feel sharper, more focused, more useful. I have a much greater understanding of myself. I am a warrior, and regardless of why or even what I want is irrelevant. My truth is that I have a warrior’s heart. And I know that I am not alone, but part of an army of fellow warriors. This brings me comfort.
Now I am readying myself. To those who have been on the frontlines the past few months do not take my stillness as silence; do not think that because you do not see me, I am not there. I’m with you. I was just readying myself for battle. I don’t know how I will possibly fight, how I can do it. But that isn’t the point. The point is that I must. And I remind myself that there have been several times that I didn’t know how I could, but I did. This will be no different.
For those of you who are wondering what your heart is made of, here is a list of a few rules I live by. If they speak to you, then perhaps you have a warrior’s heart as well.
A Warrior’s Rules for Living (in no particular order)
- Never accept an answer simply because it is given.
- No one deserves your respect beyond common human decency. Respect beyond this point must be earned.
- Always seek the truth and what is right.
- If you feel strongly about something, see it through until the end.
- If someone says that you can’t, make sure that you do.
- If the thought of something you might do scares you, then know that it’s what’s right.
- Silence equals death.
- If it’s easy, something’s wrong.
- One person can absolutely make the difference – why not you?
- In life something or someone will always be coming at you, you can either be taken or come back twice as hard.
- When someone tries to intimidate you equate them with a monster. Then remind yourself that you are the thing monsters fear.
- Never stop. If possible, try not to even pause.
I’m sure there are more, but those are my biggies. So, where are my fellow warriors? Going forward, let’s stand together. An army on the rise…