Since the OK4RJ blog was revamped last October, I’ve been advocating for reproductive justice as a regularly contributing blog writer despite my inner/outer shy girl being way intimidated. I’ve also been active with the Student Organizer’s Collective (SOC) at the University of Oklahoma. Because of the support and encouragement of OK4RJ and SOC friends/organizers – who are actually The Best – I pushed past the shy thing once more and spoke on the Religion and Reproductive Justice Panel at the annual Take Root: Red State Perspectives on Reproductive Justice conference last February. I basically talked about this again, because Lorde knows it needs repeating.
Learning to take care of and respect myself and my needs as an introverted activist is how I became comfortable enough to regularly contribute to the OK4RJ blog and eventually speak on a panel at Take Root. It is crucial to empower young people to be activists if we want to continue building the movement and resisting burnout and turnover. But because we live in predominately conservative areas and have likely been socialized to be non-confrontational (particularly women), it can be really difficult to get started with activism in the first place. I want to dedicate this post to my fellow introverted, shy Oklahomans and red state residents. Here’s a list of suggestions and tips for reproductive justice-minded introverts and the people who work with them.
“Activist” is not a one-size fits all term:
There is often an image of activism that includes having to be out in public, speaking to strangers all while being 100% articulate and being able to stand up to those that will try to remove you from your rally, counter protest, etc. First of all, remember that you can promote reproductive justice and be an activist without putting yourself on the spot every day. If you are uncomfortable in a highly visible situation in which you will need to be speaking alone, you don’t have to force yourself to do it anyway. I know that for a lot of us growing up in conservative areas, there can be hesitation to speak out when you know from the get go that the majority of the people around you will question your values, intelligence, and right to speak. Adding that on top of a naturally introverted personality who has been trained to “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” breaking past your own socialization can be the biggest step to becoming an effective activist. Remember that activism can take many forms. For example, if writing is the way that you prefer to communicate, write.
Within our OK4RJ community, one particularly helpful practical strategy we’ve used is to make sure to go into a protest knowing who is comfortable speaking with the media or police. Extroverts: keep an eye on your shy friends. If you see them getting harassed by violent anti-abortion activists, come over and help them out. They may be having a harder time standing up for themselves under pressure, and even just your silent presence and support can help make them feel assured enough to assert themselves.
It’s ok to say “no”:
In my own experience, I’ve found that acknowledging your needs as a shy, anxious, or introverted person can do wonders for your self care and make you feel much safer. If you are being harassed by an anti-abortion protestor and you do not want to engage with them, don’t. You don’t owe them a damn thing. You can repeat “I do not want to speak to you. Please leave me alone” or any similar variation of that statement that works for you. Yes I realize that sounds robotic and cheesey but having a statement you can remember even when you’re feeling panicked can make you feel better. If anything, you know you have SOME sort of response. You can walk away. It doesn’t mean that you’re weak or too timid. It means you respect yourself enough to not torture yourself by putting up with their bullshit and triggering your own anxiety. Don’t be ashamed to set limits for yourself.
I’ve also found that over time this approach has helped me to feel more empowered and more comfortable in situations that would typically drain my energy. I can explain that I do not wish to engage in Justice For All’s scripted “dialogue,” for instance, but I would be happy to teach them about reproductive justice if they are interested. I wouldn’t have developed that ability without the help and support of my OK4RJ friends or without respecting my own limits.
Communicate your needs to the group:
Part of respecting those needs includes making sure that the other people in your activist community are aware of them. It can be difficult to bring up at first, but making sure you have the support of more outspoken activists can make your involvement and interactions within your organization much more comfortable and effective. Soft-spoken people often have a harder time with inter-organization communication than more extroverted activists. If other members of your organization know you tend to have social anxiety or just be a more quiet person in general, they will be better able to help you. They can make sure you aren’t being interrupted or ignored in meetings by others (who are often well intentioned), and it will strengthen your organization if everyone is watching out for each other’s self care. You deserve to be heard even if you express yourself quietly.
Fostering this type of environment will increase involvement from people who may be too shy to have attended meetings or events in the past because they aren’t already close friends with other activists. I know when I first became involved with OK4RJ I had worries about other volunteers and writers disliking me as a person and feared contributing and expressing myself. Clearly this was a result of my own anxiety and not because anyone at OK4RJ is a Big Scary Meanie.
Anxiety-inducing situations can be opportunities for personal growth:
I can tell you now, it is worth pushing yourself to go to meetings and events, and it is worth communicating your needs to others. Just because you are nervous speaking out doesn’t mean you always will be, and it absolutely does not mean that you can’t be an advocate for reproductive justice. If anything, I’ve found that the more I work in reproductive justice, the more outspoken I’ve become.
Carly just gave herself The Feelings by accident.
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