10 Actions for Avoiding Protest Burn-Out

Article by Cynthia L. Landrum
With all the Executive Orders fling fast and furious, there's a lot for progressives to respond to right
now, and one of the things I've been worried about is protest burn-out. After having a webpage with an article on protest burn-out crash on me ten times as I tried to load it yesterday, I decided to write my own. So here's some things you can do.

1. Know your energy style. 
 Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Do large crowded protests energize you or deplete you? Do you like sitting down and composing letters to representatives and the press, or do you dread them?  There is a lot of work to be done, and we need people doing a wide variety of things.  So focus on the kind of activities that energize you, and don't beat yourself up for not doing everything.

2. Follow your expertise.
Do you have a lot of experience in an area that might be helpful?  How can you use that strength?  One great example is how lawyers responded to the immigration issue this week by going down to the airports themselves and helping people with legal aid on the spot.  Are you a teacher?  Maybe you can help with a teach-in.  Are you a veteran?  Share what you know about how this is not in America's security interests.  Are you a writer?  Write!  If, like me, you're a great generalist, do a little of this and a little of that.  There's lots of space for you in this movement, because we need people to be flexible and responsive, and a wide variety of skills are needed.  There have been a lot of times campaigns, for example, have asked me to go door-to-door.  I refuse.  That's not my strength.  But if you want someone to spend an hour spreading your message on social media, I'm your gal.

3.  Find friends to do this with you.
Make a plan with a couple of friends who share your passion to engage in this together.  You'll keep each other going and keep each other strong this way.  Protests are easier and more fun if you've got friends to make signs with, share the drive with, and debrief with afterwards.  Don't have good friends you can ask?  Ask for some to partner with you in a Facebook group for local progressives, or in your place of worship.

4.  Similarly, connect to community.
Engaging in social justice can be draining, and having a community of support with you can help.  So find a spiritual community, and join in the local progressives.  In the last week, I've found two local progressive groups on Facebook that I had no idea existed.  In one case, that's because it didn't, and it's new.  Joining them connects me to other people in my community with my values, and then when I go to events, I connect with the people there that I've been talking with online, so it gives a touchstone at the events, as well.

5.  Set your limits for larger actions and smaller actions.
Are you going to get burned out if you protest every weekend?  Know your limits, because there will hopefully be ongoing protests for quite some time.  So if you engage once a month and that will be energizing for you and not burn you out, set that limit -- and keep to it.  It's better to miss the next important big thing but have energy to sustain this.  Similarly, even smaller actions can burn you out, because there are endless ones you can take.  So set yourself a daily or weekly time limit for how much you're going to do.

6.  Know your social media limits.
If you have Facebook friends like mine, all you have to do is open it and you'll be inundated with all the fear, despair, and bad news of the world.  So know how much of that you can take before it depletes you.  Then disconnect from it and do something energizing or community-building or just plain fun.

7.  Find the places where victory is possible.
We need to engage in long-term resistance and protest even when victory isn't in sight, but we also need to have periodic wins.  So make a point of prioritizing some places where victory is possible.  And that brings me to the next point...

8.  Don't forget the local.
With all the action going on at the national level right now, it's easy to forget about local issues.  But local issues are where we can sometimes make a big impact, and it's important to have periodic victories as we engage in this work over the long haul.  We can resist at a local level, too.  Encourage and support your local government in standing up to oppression.

9.  Cut back when necessary.
If you find yourself burning out, don't be afraid to pull back.  Yes, we need large numbers of people to resist and to protest.  But I can count one friend who didn't march on the day of the women's march for every friend who did, and it was still the largest protest in history.  And those friends who didn't march are hopefully energized by what they did instead and by seeing the wonderful photographs of their friends, and ready and excited to engage in the next thing.  So allow yourself to cut back when you have to -- without apology.

10.  Engage in a spiritual practice.
Practice something that keeps you calm and focused, and do it daily and/or engage in it before and after significant social justice work.


  1. Points 2 and 6 really jump out at me. In the last few months I have found myself increasing addicted to social media and (especially on twitter) getting sucked into debates on everything and anything. While I do think sharing information and views online is a form of activism that can be effective, doing so too much or on too many issues can be both exhausting and ineffective. Also, while anger can be energizing, being angry all time can't be good for the soul.

    My own solution has been to try to step back a bit, and to engage on issues and with people where I think there's some hope for progress and fruitful discussion. A hopeful example involves twitter -- someone posted in connection with an Obamacare debate that people who want health insurance just need to find full-time jobs. I was annoyed, but instead of adopting the default twitter style of "all insult all the time" i pointed out that many folks -- even with the ACA in place -- work full-time without guaranteed insurance coverage including many small business people, and it became a semi-productive (by twitter standards) conversation.


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