|The question of counteracting activist burnout is
always on my mind and I've struggled with it for many
years and assume I'll continue to struggle with it. Here
are a few thoughts about what we can do about it.
If you view (as I do) activism as organizing outside of the institutional system of politics, the cards are already stacked against us, because we are challenging that system. Therefore there is more resistance within the system and by other citizens who are socialized to not see problems.
We sometimes get so focused on the need for political change that we neglect other important things (both to social movements and ourselves), such as the social aspect. Having more potlucks, picnics, bowling and dancing parties, movie nights, bar-hopping, etc. can help solidify relationships between activists and help let-off steam. It's much better to fight for a better future with friends you like, admire, and respect than with strangers.
Middle-class privilege (which I grew up with) seems to suggest to us (especially those of us who are White men) that if we just try hard enough we can accomplish anything. Thus, we misunderstand the reality that change is VERY HARD and a lifetime struggle sometimes. If you talk to African-American organizers they have a very long-term vision, because they know the going isn't always easy. Having the patience to do things right and to realize that the world ain't gonna change just because we try real hard can help us to pace our expectations.
We go through basic life changes. This is especially true for college activists, who have the free time (I use this term with much reluctance) to be active, yet once they graduate, a full-time job and other obligations gets in the way. For those who get married and/or start families, obligations and commitments grow even more. We can try to make our events family/child friendly in order to encourage participation from those in their 30s and 40s.
Mass media makes every effort it can to denigrate political activism that doesn't fit with the ideology of its editors, producers, and owners. Don't believe me? Read anything by Ben Bagdikian, Norman Solomon, Robert McChesney, or Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman's Manufacturing Consent. Mass media makes protesters look stupid, ill-informed, childish, worthless, ineffective, and counterproductive. Whenever there is a clash between demonstrators and police, media focuses (90% of the time) upon that clash instead of the reasons that caused the protest, and almost always slants the story to provoke sympathy for the police instead of the demonstrators (which invariably is almost always backwards). One possible solution: Become the media!
Sad as it is to admit it, some activists are megalomaniacs, and, although they feign to be egalitarian, they are dictators at heart. This is a very small minority, of course, but these attention-grabbers ruin it for everyone else. These people have to get put in check. If that can't be democratic, get lots of people together to call them on their crap.
This problem is compounded by how some organizations operate in very undemocratic ways, that are disempowering to those who wish to be involved. Instead of using consensus decision making, the group votes between two marginal options that most members had little role in formulating or discussing. This reason alone causes many people to drop out entirely because they don't think their opinions are valued by the group. If we're activists who are serious about the causes we struggle for, we should also be serious about the means we use towards that struggle. This also means fighting sexual and racial marginalization in groups. White men (like me) need to shut the fuck up, and listen to women and people of color more often....
.... just like I'm going to do now.