Urrgghh, the Australian federal election is over. I woke up this morning with a splitting headache and a heavy heart.
There’s no doubt that this election result is going to have a big impact on communities and the environment and the way we will campaign to protect them.
For myself I know it’s going to take a while to process the new reality. Tony Abbott becoming Prime Minister is a massive downer. Many people all around Australia have worked flat out during the election campaign, and long before that, to try to get positive outcomes. Whether that was getting progressive candidates elected or putting issues on the agenda, it all took substantial human effort.
Some campaigners are enjoying wins today (hello Melbourne!) while others are sitting with heavy loss.
An election, like any major project that involves a significant outlay of activist energy, can take a heavy toll on us. Many activists will be experiencing symptoms of burn-out.
Now is a time for looking after ourselves and each other, getting some nurturing before we step back in to battle.
Here’s my suggestions, based on election experiences past and present:
- Find a win for yourself. Pick out some highlights, whatever the scale, and acknowledge them.
- Appreciate yourself and each other. As activists we so rarely get rewarded, valued, or affirmed for our work. If you know someone who worked hard, thank them. Take a break from criticism and focus on the positive. What are you pleased with yourself and others for doing during the election campaign?
- Rest. You’re not a machine. If you spent months living on cigarettes, coffee, chocolate and 4 hours of sleep, now it’s time to catch up on rest and relaxation. Sleep in late. Spend some couch time with a trashy movie. Go to pretty places and breathe a lot! Take time for quiet reflection.
- Feel. Honour your feelings, whatever they may be, and let them out. Crying, ranting, shaking, feeling angry, yawning etc are all entirely appropriate reactions, so find safe places with others or by yourself to do this. Laughter is a very socially acceptable way to express feelings which also releases fear, stress, anxiety, and embarrassment.
- Play. Be irresponsible. Take pleasure. Enjoy yourself. Do stuff that is not about being a good activist.
- … but go easy on the substances. Obviously drugs, including alcohol, may intensify the good times but can leave you feeling more crappy afterwards, and can rundown your immune system. Abbott’s victory won’t be any prettier with a hangover.
- Exercise. Adrenalin and cortisol that builds up in your body during stressful times needs somewhere to go. Moving is great for your body, but is also likely to result in a clearer head and lighter mood. Orgasms work too!
- Nurture your immune system. The crash after a stressful period is a time when your body is vulnerable to illness. Eat well, drink lots of water, dose up on vitamins, or do whatever else works for you to stay healthy.
- Debrief and evaluate. Treat the election campaign as a learning opportunity for your group, organisation, or community. What worked well? What was surprising? What do you now know, that will inform future action?
- Take the long view. Social change is bigger than electoral politics. Sometimes progress creeps forwards, sometimes it moves in leaps and bounds. Conservative governments can tend to mobilise angry citizens! The power we build in social movements can translate into electoral impacts, and electoral campaigns can produce well-trained and motivated activists ready for other struggles.
- Hold your horses. You’re probably already gearing up for the next campaign – but now (or soon) could be the ideal time to take a break. Activists need holidays! You’ll be more creative, productive and resilient after a break.
How is your election recovery going? How are you feeling? What are you doing to be kind to yourself?
Holly Hammond is a co-convenor of Plan to Thrive and the Director of Plan to Win, a Melbourne based social movement support project. She’s also a co-convenor of the Melbourne Campaigners’ Network which will host a post-election gathering in the near future.