There have always been big, scary things in the world, and sometimes it seems that all we can do is try to keep from letting despair take us over. This zine isn't going to tell you that everything is okay - there are a lot of shitty national and global political things going on, and it's normal to be disturbed by it.
This is, instead, a guide to working with your feelings so that they don't eat your whole life, and how to turn those feelings into positive action.
For the latter half of 2018, I was depressed in a way I'd never experienced before. I was paralysed by the conviction that the world was ending and it was my fault somehow. Nothing got through it; everything seemed to make me panic and feel ill. But I have, haltingly, found my way through it. Now, at the start of 2020, I see a lot of people in the same kind of mental place that I was in a year and a half ago, whether it's about climate change or fascism or both. So here's how I got through that paralysing terror to keep functioning and remember that there is a future.
My goal in life used to be to leave the world better than I've found it, but I've realised that that goal is too big, and too far out of my control. But I want to leave the world a better place than it would have been without me. These are the steps I'm using to get there - I hope they can be of use to you, too.
This zine is also designed to be copied and redistributed with any additions that YOU want to make. These are just the ways I approach despair - you probably already have your own. Add them. Photocopy. Pass it on to the next person. We need awareness of the problems, sure, but there's a lot of that going around. We need way more awareness of how to make it better.
This zine was made on lands stolen from the peoples of the Kulin nation including Wurundjeri and Wathaurung peoples, and the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. The sovereignty of these peoples was never ceded and as a resident of these lands I am part of the work that still needs to be done towards justice.
How to put on your oxygen mask
I think we should all be trying to make the world better - and I think we all have things we can do to make that happen. It's hard to do that, though, if you're filled with despair.
Despair is, above everything else, a feeling. That doesn't mean it's not a real feeling and you can just wish it away. It does mean you should question it, pull at the edges and look at the things it's not telling you as well as the things it is.
Despair is a reaction to what you're reading and seeing and hearing about the world. What you're reading and seeing and hearing is not the whole picture. You're probably seeing headlines and the things people are most angry about and other people's strong emotional reactions to the news. That's never the whole picture.
People who tell you that something is inevitable are telling you to give up and stop fighting. Why do they want you to do that? What do they have to lose if you keep fighting? How powerful must your fighting be, if people want to stop you?
Despair tells you that everything is hopeless, that nothing you can do can make things better, and you should give up. These are not facts. These are lies, just as much as "everything is fine" is a lie. What's more, saying that all is lost is kind of letting yourself off the hook. If you give up, you don't have to do any of the work of making things better. Refusing to act, and refusing to believe that there is any use in acting, has the same end result as climate denial.
The way forward is to sit between the extremes of "all is lost" and "everything is fine", the complicated reality that some things are changed forever but we can still make choices that affect the way forward. It is much harder. It feels so much better.
We don't know what the future will hold. That's the scariest thing in the world, and one of the most hopeful. There is a difference between the future looking different to what you thought it would and not having a future. You can't put the world back the way it was, but you can make today better than yesterday, and tomorrow better than today.
But what can people do about it? SO MANY THINGS.
A quick note: I'm sure you think you don't need to hear the "we all have different abilities and that's okay" speech again, but this is a topic that inspires a lot of guilt about the things people can't do. So allow me to recap: of the actions in this section, EVERYONE WILL HAVE THINGS THEY CAN AND CAN'T DO.
I live a long way from any city centres, so it's hard for me to take part in in-person protests; you may be struggling for money and can't afford to donate. Neither of us need to feel guilty; I can donate money and this hypothetical other person can go to protests. Adapt to the other ideas as applicable. Don't beat yourself up if one of these ideas makes you feel guilty for not being able to, but don't wallow in it either - put it aside and look for things that work for you.
(And please don't give other people a hard time for the things they can and can't do. Yes, it's good to eat less meat; no, it's not practical for everyone. Let's focus on what we can do instead of shaming what we can't.)
The first thing to do is to figure out which politician you want to address your concerns to. You can address things to the Minister in charge of the issue, but you will also have multiple other members of Parliament who are elected to represent you, specifically, based on where you live. There will be members who are part of the government (the party in power) the opposition (the second largest party) and the crossbench (minor parties and independents).
They are all worth talking to.
It may seem like it's only worth contacting the government members, but the opposition are always looking to cast themselves as an alternative government at the next election, and crossbenchers are in a position to influence both major parties.
Whether you're writing or phoning your local member, some ways of communicating are more effective than others. Remember that many politicians' offices get a lot of calls and letters, and that most of them will be received by office staff. The most important thing to do is to be clear early on about why you're calling, your relationship to the politician, and what you want them to do.
Here's a simple script for phone contact:
Hello. I live in [your electorate or state] and I'm very concerned about [this issue]. Here is a short explanation of why it's wrong. I would like you to [withdraw the bill/vote against the bill/reverse this decision/condemn this decision/insert your own].
The only part of a letter I have a strict script for is the opening line:
I am writing to you as one of your constituents in the electorate of [name] to urge you to [do the thing you want them to do].
From there it's up to you how you want to play it. If you're not sure, I'd suggest structuring your paragraphs in three-sentence form like this:
Whether you're speaking on the phone or writing a letter, it's best to avoid personal attacks and swearing, but you don't have to mince words, either. "I am horrified and disgusted by this abhorrent proposal by the Government, and implore you to take a stance against this abuse of LGBTI Australians to suck up to the radical fringe of your own party" is great.
Finally, it doesn't have to be perfect. If you have a complete letter but you don't think it's good enough, or you're worried it hasn't followed my advice enough but you don't think you can look at it any more, send it anyway. I once sent Scott Morrison a letter that just said "I don't see why the Earth should suffocate just because you have a hard-on for coal." That one did not get a response, but I still think it was better than not sending it.
WHO'S GOT THE TIME, RIGHT? We all want to help but I have A Lot To Do. Capitalism wants to keep us too busy surviving to think about this stuff, and I don't want to minimize that.
Only here's the thing - if I don't act, I'm devoting a lot of my time to worrying, and stressing, and obsessing, and so forth. So it's that time that I turn into time to yell at politicians.
One of the simplest things you can do is save all your representatives' contact details somewhere easy to access. Next time you feel sad or angry about something happening in the world, you can tell your friends and your Twitter feed how sad and angry you are - and you can also pull up your local member's number/email address in your phone and tell them. This makes it fairly low energy, and it means communicating your negative feelings to someone whose job it is to bear the brunt of them, and to turn them into change at the highest level.
Thanks to Briar Rolfe (twitter: @briar_rolfe) for advice in this section.
Activist organisations want you! Yes, YOU! They want you to join and to come to protests and to help with campaigns even if you don't think you have any skills to bring. You could volunteer at a service or a phone line, paint banners, help organise volunteers - there are all kinds of work that organisations need.
Working for change as part of a political party can be frustrating, but it can also bring about great change. It's not all about running for a seat in parliament, although I won't tell you that you can't! But parties aren't just run by the people in parliament - ordinary branch members can influence policy direction, and are responsible for voting on who gets to run in an election. You could also make a big difference by helping to campaign for a candidate who supports your causes and getting them elected.
Each political party is different, so it's hard for me to give much further advice. If you're interested in this route, it's best to research your options and ask questions of the party directly.
This is totally my bias because I love gardening, but: growing plants is good! Growing plants adds something, however little, to carbon storage/recycling, and it looks pretty. Growing your own food, however little or much you can manage, cuts down on the emissions from food transport costs. Growing bee-friendly flowers helps support bee populations and pollination.
Some guides to get you started:
If you want to get really into it, join the Diggers Club Australia, who can sell you the materials you need and give you heaps of information on growing sustainable and organic gardens.
Recently I've found that one way to deal with nervous energy is to Do Stuff with my hands, which has led to knitting. Which has led to enthusiasm about new patterns, and a to-make list so long that it was pointless my wife and I having this many hats. What am I going to do with all these hats, I asked? And she said, donate them.
Knit One, Give One is an organisation that distributes hand-made clothing from volunteers to people in need. They have some simple patterns on their website to get you started, but you can make any garment pattern you want.
This is one of those things that makes me ask, would simply donating money to ASRC or a homelessness charity be more effective, in the sense of doing more good for my buck? In a purely utilitarian sense, probably. But it's not always about how to maximise bang for your buck. Donating handmade clothes takes some small part of clothing production out of the mass production system which exploits workers and contributes to environmental degradation, and it means someone out there is going to get a beautiful, lovingly-made piece of winter clothing from me. Giving something handmade is doing more than just keeping someone warm, it's saying, You are valued, and you are cared for.
Animal Rescue Craft Guild is a group of crafters that craft the kind of materials that are needed in animal wildlife. In Australia, especially, this means lots of sewn, knitted and crocheted pouches for orphaned marsupials, but it also includes blankets and mittens and all kinds of things. Their facebook group includes all the patterns you need, updates on what items are most needed at any given time, and also organises collections and transport. Even if you don't craft, you can help get the items to where they need to go!
There are so many ways to fundraise for a cause! Get some friends together and have a bake sale! Pass a collection around at your office! Run a sausage sizzle! Auction off your skills like Writers For Fireys!
Even if it's not immediately contributing to The Greater Good, every skill you learn gets you a little more self-empowered and a little less beholden to capitalism. Here is a list of suggestions that is JUST THE BEGINNING!
Donating money to causes is simultaneously one of the most powerful ways an individual can help, and often one of the least satisfying. It only takes a moment and it feels like you just move some numbers. But it is often very effective, and it especially helps when you're worried about something you can't help with directly.
Many of us make donations reactively - we see a campaign by an organisation, or a disaster, and make a one off donation of whatever we have at the moment. There's nothing wrong with this! But personally I find it more satisfying and sustainable to set aside a portion of my income for donations, and set up the bulk of that as monthly donations to organisations I support. This also helps support organisations in a more sustainable way so they don't have to spend so much energy on fundraising.
Most of the reason I do it, though, is because I find it a good reaction to the causes that I would otherwise feel frustrated and helpless about. I can't do any kind of direct action for the Amazon Rainforest, but I can donate to Amazon Frontlines to help keep more of the rainforest in indigenous hands. And I often feel defeated by the way I've spent nearly two decades advocating for refugee rights in Australia and made no legislative progress, but donating to Refugee Legal Aid means that some refugees get representation and better outcomes.
You may also find it useful to look into Effective Altruism, the idea of evaluating how to do the most good per dollar and putting your money towards those causes. I don't entirely follow the idea myself, but it has informed the way I think. Giving What We Can is a good place to start.
This zine is, above all, just a starting point when it comes to action and activism. The more you do, the more you'll find to learn - and the more you'll feel like there's hope. The best thing I can suggest is to talk to other people who care about what you care about and are doing something about it. Listen, learn, and pass it on. Including passing on this zine. Keep adding to it. Print your own copy. Send in links. Make your own zine.
Keep fighting despair, keep hoping, and above all, keep doing.
Love and hope,
Against Despair v 1.0, last updated 26 February 2020