by | Sep 12, 2023

How self-care can equip campaigners navigating hard times

Human rights campaigner Hayley Willingale reflects on useful learning from SMK’s Resilient Campaigner workshop.

Recent times have been tough for campaigners. Years’ worth of confrontational politics, deepening crises and closing civic space have  inevitably taken their toll. Working from a place of hope, in service of an ideal or a vision of a better society, can feel not just fanciful but utterly overwhelming at times.

As Mariam Kemple Hardy pointed out in her recent blog, this is no time to be complacent. Assuming we may see a change of government in the not-too-distant future, campaigners will find themselves having to dig even deeper into their reserves as they readjust their entire strategies to a new context. A moment like this brings to mind Audre Lorde’s immortal words, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”.

So, my attendance at SMK’s workshop, ‘The Resilient Campaigner’, couldn’t have been timelier. On a recent Tuesday morning, a group of us came together to consider ways in which we can continue the campaigning work that we love from a more sustainable place. Facilitated by the wise and lovely people at Bird, who provide resilience coaching for non-profit organisations, we quickly discovered a range of common challenges.

From the daunting feeling of a never-ending ‘to do’ list (let’s face it, you’re rarely ‘done’ in our field), the pressure of expectations and not wanting to let anyone down (especially those whom your work is in service of) and the excruciatingly slow pace of change (even in those areas where government may seem to be listening). Interestingly, our personal experiences chimed with the findings of SMK’s own recent annual campaigner survey, in which nearly two=thirds  of respondents said things have got worse for campaigning over the last year.

Despite all this, the workshop was the kind of deeply replenishing experience that I find often comes from sharing space with like-minded, thoughtful folk. Despite our diverse backgrounds and experiences, people were quick to share and actively listened, in a genuine spirit of non-judgment and confidentiality. Being taught strategies for proactively managing stress reminded us that it’s OK to show yourself the same compassion you show others, that your values can act as crucial signposts for navigating through hard times and that sometimes finding a fresh perspective can be all you need to feel differently about a problem.

Not only that, we talked about how prioritising your own self care can demonstrate a powerful example of leadership that gives permission to others to do the same. With enough room to grow this ripple effect could yet transform into a mighty wave of change amongst campaigners, and through them, much further beyond.

Hayley Willingale

Hayley Willingale is a human rights campaigner.



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