Burnt out? How we revived our activist energy

Smoking, burnt matches

2020 has been a hard year. It’s been especially hard with respect to maintaining one’s energy for activist efforts. Have you noticed that? We here on the documentary certainly have!

We started working to build our social media presence for the smallest steps way back in March 2019 (feels like a lifetime ago!). Our team at the time – Alexandra Zannis, Kristina Reed and I – were all fresh-faced activists, ready to make miracles happen! Our verve and energy for the work was high. We met regularly in person, set goals, and in the end, ran a successful Indiegogo campaign for production costs. And the documentary moved forward.

After the campaign, Antonella Pucci and Amy Richardson joined our social media team and Alexandra stepped away to focus on her work in poverty reduction. With the new recruits, we developed our very first ‘official’ social media campaign and we were accepted into the Rebel.com Changemaker Program through which we built our website. Again, we were FULL of energy, motivation, and ideas!

However, by the time production wrapped on the documentary (December 2019), our energy was drained. Then COVID hit and well, we all needed a reboot. So how did we start to regain our energy, especially when we could only connect virtually? Here’s how:

Our virtual meetings since COVID. Top left corner to right: Kristina Reed, Nicole Bedford, Antonella Pucci, and Amy Richardson (missing: Natasha Randall-Tremblant)

We started by reconnecting with our WHY.

The top ‘motivational’ coaches (for entrepreneurship, weight loss, etc.) will always tell you: You aren’t going to achieve the goals you set if they aren’t rooted in a clear and personal WHY. Well this applies to activism too! That’s why our first step was to share with each other what motivated us to tackle this project in the first place.

For me, I pursued the documentary at the start because I wanted to grow as a filmmaker and the topic had a ‘social good’ purpose for me. The deeper I got into the project, however, the more people who shared their stories of violence with me (not just for the documentary). As a result, I began to truly understand the pervasiveness of violence against women (VAW) and I realized I had to do more than simply create a documentary. I needed to find a way to further support the anti-violence movement. This is how the documentary gained its focus on the “first steps” in anti-violence activism – because I was starting my own journey!

For Kristina, her motivation stemmed from a pivotal moment when she had the chance to interview Bonnie Brayton, DAWN Canada Executive Director, for a research project (read the interview here). Hearing Bonnie talk about how little support is invested in the research of women living with disabilities who have experienced violence, and the need for more data, made an impact. Living with Cystic Fibrosis, Kristina was just starting to get connected in the online disability community, but she struggled to find where she fit in the dialogue. When she mentioned this in the interview, Bonnie encouraged Kristina to celebrate her story. The goal of disability activism is to show the community in its diverse entirety, which means that every story has a “place” in the discussion. What’s important is when one of us gains a platform, we use it to uplift another voice also. So when I came along and asked if she wanted to support this documentary, she knew it was the right fit.

Antonella is one of our more experienced activists on the team. In her university days as a teaching assistant, she was highly involved in her union. She was a fierce advocate for women and gender equality and was even behind establishing the first equity policy and equity trustee position for the union local, which still exists to this day. When Antonella graduated, she started to lose connection with her activist side, so she jumped on the opportunity to reconnect with this part of her identity when I asked her to help me out.

Amy joined the documentary team to make an impact. As a journalism student in university, Amy learned the hard truth about the experiences that vulnerable communities face. Sharing those stories drove her to find other ways to bring awareness to the issues, especially the issue of ending violence against women. As a young woman trying to find her place in the world, Amy was drawn to the documentary as a way to channel her skills for good.

And the latest addition to our team, Natasha Randall-Tremblant, joined after discovering the documentary through her university community research program. The documentary spoke to her as a much-needed project here in Canada and she was excited to have the opportunity to be a part of it. She has been an anti-violence activist since her youth due to family experience with domestic violence.

Next, we identified our energy drains.

Knowing your WHY is a good start, but until you can figure out the things that are draining your energy and preventing you from moving forward, you can’t come up with good strategies to help keep yourself motivated over the long haul. To identify our barriers, we did a collective (virtual) brainstorming session using Padlet.com. For 10 minutes we silently and anonymously typed out our barriers. Here’s some of what we came up with:

  • We judge our writing a lot! This applies to blogs, social media posts, etc. We all try so hard to craft the perfect posts that we don’t end up posting anything (or we get really frustrated and drained).
  • After a long day at work, we can’t face being on the computer for one more minute.
  • We feel disconnected from our creativity.
  • We’re struggling to juggle everything
  • When we miss a deadline or a goal, the guilt kicks in HARD (and we want to avoid the work to forget about the guilt).
  • When others miss deadlines we have set, it becomes challenging to motivate ourselves to meet deadlines

After, we began to dream again.

Following the brainstorm of energy drains, we asked ourselves the question: If we had all the time and energy in the world to devote to the smallest steps, what would we spend it on? This question got us dreaming, and boy did we come up with a ton of ideas! The Padlet stickies we flying onto the board with lightning speed!

Amidst all the potential ‘task’ ideas, we also came to the realization that we were all craving authenticity. We really wanted to start sharing the story of our work, our successes AND our setbacks, behind the scenes of the smallest steps. This was a pivotal realization because it gave us a clear focus for the last two steps.

We brainstormed strategies for addressing our energy drains.

Coming off the high of dreaming again, we set our positively-charged minds to brainstorming strategies that would help us tackle our energy drains. We only gave ourselves 10 minutes to force us to type now, and think later. Ideas such as “write posts on paper & then transfer to the computer” (to avoid technology) and “schedule VAW time in the calendar” (for juggling everything) stated populating the Padlet, with the most humourous solution being “give less f*cks” (when writing), which was then paired with “have an accountability partner who presses ‘publish’ on the final post”.

At this point, we had all the material we needed to tackle the final step:

We developed energizing principles on which we can base our social media work.

The final step was to assemble all we had discussed – our WHYs, our drains, our dreams, and our energy-drain solutions – and come up with principles that will help energize us and keep us motivated moving forward. Here’s what we came up with:

the smallest steps Social Media Principles:

  • Focus on creating content that inspires us (as opposed to content that we feel obligated to create)
  • Maximize the content we create using the “bite, snack, lunch” method (see: https://medium.com/wehearthealthliteracy/do-you-want-a-bite-a-snack-or-a-meal-a37992ffb824)
  • Experiment with “offline” methods of content creation.
  • Devote time each meeting to celebrate our successes (and each other!)
  • Regularly connect back to our stories and our why’s, both in our content, as well as in our social media meetings.
  • Have fun!

We established these principles in November, and so far, so good. From these principles, we have developed a new 3-month campaign that we’re quite excited about. While COVID continues to plague us all (no pun intended), we are feeling much more motivated about our social media work!

What motivates YOU to continue your anti-VAW work??? Share with us in the comments below!

Nicole Bedford