I recently came up with a portmanteau to describe something I’ve been doing a lot lately: chillactivism, or activism while hanging out with friends.
In the past year or so, I’ve attended several meet-and-greet parties where the guests converse with local progressive candidates as well as catch up with friends. Others in my circle have hosted gatherings where the participants socialize and write on the back of postcards, urging various government offices to act on a specific issue such as police accountability. Friends will often meet to assemble backpacks filled with essentials for homeless people. And many of us have gone to marches in support of science, sensible gun laws, and reunification of separated migrant families.
I believe chillactivism might be the antidote to the feeling of helplessness in the face of current events. It can also help create community, something we desperately need. Given the challenges of juggling family and work, it isn’t always easy to be resourceful and creative in engaging in political actions beyond the slacktivism of signing petitions and reposting hashtags, and without succumbing to volunteer burnout. But recognizing we need in-person support and community means we can be intentional about reaching out to other like-minded people and focusing our down time on social actions we’re passionate about. And the great thing about chillactivism is that it can take many forms, from brainstorming sessions at a local pub to coordinating multiple people working in concert toward the same goal.
As we’ve witnessed recently, our government’s “zero-tolerance” policy has resulted in separating thousands of migrants from their loved ones. It is overwhelmingly unpopular and has united strangers fighting for the same cause, as we saw during the Families Belong Together marches. Activists have resorted to civil disobedience, more recently chaining themselves together to block detention center employees from leaving, and participating in a hunger strike to pressure lawmakers to abolish the federal agency.
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Designed to pressure and disrupt our government’s treatment of migrants, these acts of civil disobedience require careful planning and involve many moving parts. In conversations with friends and family, I learned that while there are several people who are willing to spend a night in jail, there are many more who will gladly run errands and provide in-person support for these activists. So besides the main activists, there are often people who provide supplies, such as blankets, water, and tents. There are legal witnesses, media/social media advocates, people in charge of security, medical teams, and those who provide funding for bail in case of arrest. Each person brings vital support for these endeavors.
When the hunger strike near the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego was entering its eighth day, chillactivists continued to show up and sit with the strikers while their kids played at the nearby park. A friend led a yoga and meditation session and Aztec dancers and musicians came to share their art. Supporters from other cities were fasting in solidarity with the hunger strikers and posted pictures on the event page. Mohamed Elnakib, one of the hunger strike activists, said to me, “People showing up at the park has been the greatest form of community support we can ask for.”
Other hunger strikers activists echoed Elnakib’s sentiment. They realize that dismantling an unjust system requires an equally effective opposing system made of many allies.
Without community support and affirmation, activists can feel alone in their fight for justice. Moral support, whether provided in the midst of a hunger strike or a scheduled court appearance, helps activists strengthen their resolve and add momentum to their movement.
At the same time, we all could use more in-person experiences. We are living in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, where the lack of belonging and community has been linked to high suicide rates, substance abuse, and an increased sense of despair. Mobile communication devices are a major culprit, as evidence in two studies indicate that their mere presence negatively affects human relationships. Maintaining in-person relationships has become challenging, yet it’s an imperative part of sustaining mental health in our modern world.
In the current political climate, where 61 percent of Americans say “significant changes” are needed in the fundamental “design and structure” of the U.S. government, we need all hands on deck for our individual and our country’s well-being. Those who are risking their lives to bring about meaningful change need our support. It’s time to reach out to each other and realize if we want change, we have to show up for it.