The individual

from Brian Martin, Uprooting War (London: Freedom Press, 1984), chapter 7, pp. 98-111. This chapter was omitted from the revised 1990 version.
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What makes some individuals into social activists? What keeps other individuals non-active? How can individuals help themselves become more effective in acting against oppressive social institutions? What does it take to build and hold a commitment to helping achieve grassroots action against war and other social problems?

Rather than answering these questions just by myself, I have also asked a few friends to write about their own experiences. I asked people who have been involved in social action for 5 years or more and who are committed to changing the institutions underlying social problems. I asked them to tell a bit about their upbringing and personal background and how it related to social action, and to tell about things which help or which hinder their involvement in social action and their ongoing personal change. I also asked them to list some general points which they think are important for individuals participating in a wider process of social change from the grassroots.

Individuals have only limited control over their lives. They can make choices within constraints currently imposed by personal abilities, personal relationships and commitments, social class, sex, ethnic group, age, and other variables. An important question for social activists is this: what can be done to shape one's own social circumstances in order to provide a strong and lasting basis for both activism and personal needs?

Robert Griew

I was born in 1960. I am a student and have lived in Canberra for six years. Before I came to Canberra, I lived in Perth with my mother and two sisters. Both my parents are well educated and politically progressive. My father is an academic; my mother is a librarian. Our family history was basically tied up with my father's career at various universities until, when I was sixteen, he left.

Likely to be politically conscious because of this early life, I think the disruption in our life caused by our parents' separation resulted in my sisters and myself adopting a more radical outlook. When Dad did leave, we moved to a smaller house and were, fairly suddenly, less 'comfortable' economically. My mother 'went back to work' and started a graduate training. Consequently, we were confronted with a need for a drastic transformation of the division of labour among the four of us. I came in for quite a lot of just criticism during this time and, being a sixteen year old young man, resisted a fair amount in turn. This experience and my anger at the trauma that their separation inflicted on my mother added to the generally left-wing family orientation in predisposing me to political radicalism when I went to university.

In six years in Canberra I have been a student for four years. I was a student at the Australian National University for two years. Via student politics I became involved with a very active Unemployed Workers' Union and the lifestyle of 24-hours-a-day activism. I also became involved in the peace movement and nonviolent action training. In 1981 I took a job in a childcare centre. Working there with a wonderful group of children, while also being involved with a 'men's group', redirected my political energy into my second attempt at tertiary study. I have just finished a degree in health education and am hopeful of work in the health field which is both economically and politically rewarding.

When I came to university for the first time I found the student left very inaccessible, indeed forbidding. Visible left wing student politicians spoke with great confidence and speed. (Some never say 'um' at all!) Mostly they didn't make friends with non-activist students, or at least they didn't seem to, and their own friendships seemed very bound up with the ever changing lexicons of theoretical jargon and with their confident, brusque world. When I finally became involved in student politics I found that the dominant mode of communication was indeed very reified and was fairly exclusively controlled by competing theoretical interests of small groups of men.

Community-based activist groups were also forbidding when I wanted to join them. Their theoretical orthodoxy was different. It was based rather on an anti-theoretical individualistic idea of social change, 'coming down to individual change'. This is not true of all such groups, of course, but it is to an extent a predominant ideology in the environmental and nonviolent movements. Arriving in these groups as I did from involvement in student politics I found it desirable though very difficult to bring to the groups the language and insights of other theoretical viewpoints. I found these groups also quite exclusive in their adherence to a communication mode characterised by emphasis on one's own feelings and on interpersonal relationships rather than on an exchange of ideas -- and to this mode's underlying theoretical assumptions.

Thus, while those two kinds of group in which I have been involved were quite different in styles and in outlook, I found them to be quite similar in rigidity and in a separatism from non-activists who do not conform to these expectations. Another similarity which occurs to me is the prevalence of 'burnout' -- of disillusionment, frustration, exhaustion and ill-humour among members of both types of groups.

Repeatedly as an activist I have had terrible problems reconciling my own pressing activities, such as earning money, studying and friendship, with the high expectations of the activist role. In both groups which I have caricatured above the theoretical outlook and mode of communication which dominated also produced a distinct set of expectations of group members which was not flexible to the multiplicity of pressures with which we all live. This was just as true of the supposedly individualistic nonviolent action groups as of the more anti-individualistic student left.

Sadly I have found my personal answer has consistently been to withdraw from activist groups in favour of the pressures of earning money to live on and, recently, to be more fully involved in studying and in having a child. Optimistically I have found that significant grassroots political opportunities present themselves in work and study situations, especially if I have the energy and time to follow them up. In 1983 I was part of a breakaway tutorial group which was involved in some interesting political conflict with our course's coordinators. I have also had the opportunity of pursuing industrial issues in casual workplaces. The issues which underlie such 'opportunities' are of course vital issues to the lives of the people with whom we interact. Given the frustrating isolation of radical groups to which I have referred, I have come to regard this kind of political work as very valuable in itself. My health has also improved by adopting a lifestyle more similar to and more accessible to the 'straight' people with whom I interact.

Community action groups are of course still vital and I want to finish here with a few guidelines which I will follow myself in my next involvement in such a group and which I will push the group to make room for when others want to join. Firstly, be very clear with yourself as to why you are getting involved in a political group and how much time and energy you can contribute. It is better to concentrate on an issue or one group than be at every demonstration and meeting; better politically and better emotionally, in the long run. Secondly, be prepared to challenge group orthodoxies and to refuse pressure to make personal commitments and changes which aren't appropriate. Be ideologically unsound every day. Thirdly, constantly re-evaluate the state of your life and the variety of needs and pressures that constitute it. The revolution depends less on your total commitment than on your long term survival.

Janet Hunt

I was born in England in 1948 and brought up in a family where politics were never discussed and where day-to-day living consumed most of our energies. My father had a milkround and worked very long hours in the belief that if you work hard you do well. He didn't. Instead he lost what little money we had. There were two things about my upbringing that probably influenced me without my realising it. Firstly, out of necessity my mother worked in the milk business too. Though roles in the family were very traditional it never seemed odd to me for wives to work, though I have to admit I saw no point in women receiving much education. Secondly my father was strongly against bureaucrats. I remember him ripping up the Census form and complaining that THEY didn't have a right to know all that about him.

I passed the notorious eleven plus exam and went to an all girls grammar school which I hated. I dealt with this by resisting passively. I never stayed there one second longer than I had to (even for sports which I enjoyed). I left as soon as I could -- fortunately with some 'O' levels. I went out to work -- with horses, which were my consuming passion and my antidote to school. My seven years' experience in the 'horse world' made me think a lot. Though I loved the work I hated some of the people whom I found myself mixing with (the 'hunting set', the 'upper crust') and it gradually dawned on me that, but for the circumstances of birth, they were no better than me. Also, I realised, despite my own negative school experiences, I was not entirely stupid. So when a friend left horses to go to teacher training I watched with interest. A couple of years later I decided that I would follow in her footsteps. I had had enough of working for people whom I felt did not need my labour. I decided I would try to make myself useful to people in greater need.

At teachers' college I met Ron Bond -- a socialist, whom I was fortunate to have as my 'personal tutor'. The more sociology I read, and the more I listened to Ron the more I realised that the things which had been going on in my mind over the past few years had some substance. Inspired by Ron and some fellow students I felt increasingly committed to working for 'disadvantaged' people, and to education as a means of social change. But my early experiences in schools were a rather shattering blow to my zeal. I started to see schools themselves as the source of many problems. I found myself forced by the culture of schools into an authoritarian role which I hated. This time, as a teacher, I felt rebellious about and resentful of the petty rules and regulations in schools and the apparent incapacity of people in these institutions to treat young people as human beings.

A year in Cambridge doing a bachelor of education degree opened my eyes still more. There I rubbed shoulders with the younger members of Britain's upper classes. I didn't like what I saw. For me, the chance to go to university was one which I valued greatly. I was the first member of my family to receive a university education and with it, I felt a responsibility to use the opportunity I'd had for the benefit of people like my own family who had not been so fortunate. I found very few other students who felt a similar conviction. Among the friends I made in Cambridge were several Australians. I decided that I wanted to teach overseas, so when jobs in Victoria were advertised I applied, and was accepted.

I arrived in Australia in August 1975, in time to witness the 'constitutional coup' which was the downfall of the Labor government. I was shattered by Labor's defeat in the subsequent election, but found myself quite alone in a very small conservative country town in north-western Victoria. In 1977 I moved to Armidale, New South Wales to start a master of education degree. I wanted to read more and work towards changing schools. That year I lived in a college as a tutor. Again I ran into hierarchy and an attempt to create in an alien setting an Oxbridge 'tradition' more orthodox than that I had seen at Cambridge itself.

Once again I became angry and I took stock of where I'd got to in my life. Though I knew what my values were, I realised that beyond my work there was little I was doing about them. I resolved to become involved in at least one voluntary social work group, to contribute to the community radio and to join the Labor Party. All three gave me new insights. Telephone counselling training helped me as much as any help I ever gave through my work. I learned to listen to others better and, of course, became more closely aware of the tragedies of some people's lives. The community radio -- which tried to operate as a very democratic cooperative -- taught me a lot about the difficulties of working in ways many of us were not used to. The Labor Party made me more aware of a range of political issues. In education, I became involved in the movement to make schools more participatory and open.

On arrival in Queensland to teach at a college of advanced education I soon found myself forced to 'take a stand'. Politics in that state were very polarised and I felt bound to speak out against injustice. I was rapidly involved in a host of political activities -- both at work in a very sexist institution, and outside where civil liberties, land rights and abortion were all 'hot' issues. I also became deeply embroiled in attempts to democratise the Queensland Labor Party, and later began to work in Toowoomba on peace issues.

In 1982 I moved to Canberra, where I soon became very active in the Canberra Programme for Peace Committee. A lot of 'threads' have come together now in my concern for the 'disadvantaged', my desire to make educational institutions more participatory and 'inclusive', and my concern with peace and women's issues. Personal change has been gradual -- apart from the time in 1977 when I 'took stock' I can't think of any one event which changed me -- but taken together I find my experiences and reflection on them keep pushing me in more radical directions.

What has helped me? My friends have been essential. Especially in Queensland, where I virtually 'burned out', I found the support of a few close friends of inestimable value. We all helped and encouraged each other -- and vented our despair and anger at times. Alone I could never have withstood the political forces against me. I gained a great deal from the strong spirit of defiance and determination among those Queensland people struggling for change. In my educational work I have similarly gained strength from a wide network of people all over Australia whom I have met (often on the 'fringe' of conferences) and whose work I admired. Knowing you are not alone is vital! To know that you are part of a global movement is inspiring.

Secondly, I have remained single. This gives me more time for political work -- but it has its disadvantages, not least of which is the sharing of feelings and frustrations with someone very close, and the sharing of responsibilities at home. Yet I feel better off than those whose closest 'mate' is unsupportive or unsympathetic. I don't have to expend energy dealing with that -- many women do.

Thirdly, I am learning (slowly!) not to take on too much. This year, 1984, I am giving myself more time to reflect, read and write. I shall try not to go to so many meetings. I am really asking myself whether my participation is necessary, and in which groups I'll find my energies maintained, not drained. Groups which pay attention to the social needs of their members as well as the task are more energy giving. So are those that work through consensus -- one isn't always struggling in a win/lose situation.

I am concerned that the processes used by peace groups reflect the kind of society that we want to see. That is, we must not have oppressive relationships within our movement. Similarly, becoming a group member must give each individual a chance to develop, rather than feel intimidated and overwhelmed by others. Small, grassroots groups, loosely linked, release much more energy than large, bureaucratic-type organisations. They are more likely to make each person feel that he or she has something to offer. Thus, as I see it, social change movements must be creating change now. Through their ways of working they need to model in a small way the kinds of social arrangements we would want to see.

As far as organising myself is concerned, I make endless lists, and leave notes to myself all over the place. I've taken to having pen and paper by my bed, because I always remember something really important just before I go off to sleep. To scribble it down quickly means I sleep easily, without fear of forgetting it.

Time off is important too. It is very easy to get caught up in an endless round of activism. Personal relationships and friendships suffer unless time is given to them. Also, it is very easy to become so obsessed with the state of the world that the day-to-day concerns of people are forgotten, leading one to become very depressed.

To keep mentally calm I exercise. I find regular swimming is a wonderful relaxation for me, and if I miss out for more than a week I feel the tension rise. I now have a fairly demanding job, and, had I chosen to, I believe I could gain further promotion. But to do that I also feel I would have to play games which I'm not prepared to do. I also don't want to put myself back into a very stressful work environment. My current job, as a research officer for an education authority, is interesting and, most important, my close workmates are terrific people who are generally very supportive of my activism (even if they think I'm a bit mad at times!). I learned in Queensland that it is very unfair to oneself to struggle on all fronts at once. While sometimes I feel compelled to take on a number of issues because of the injustices involved, I try to keep mentally calm as I do so. I have decided that to give some energy to the peace movement, I have to have the kind of job which doesn't completely exhaust me.

There is no doubt that social change is hard and tiring -- but through the peace movement I have met some wonderful and courageous people, and had a lot of fun. That, and hope, keep me going.

Brian Martin

I was born in 1947 in the United States. My upbringing was not designed to produce social activists. The family atmosphere created by my parents was very supportive, middle class, and socially and politically conservative within the conservative environment of Tulsa, Oklahoma. I never heard of any relatives who were active on social issues. My four years at Rice University, 1965-1969, broadened my social horizons, and somewhat softened by right-wing political views. Still, in 1968 I voted for Richard Nixon for President.

Rice University was a conservative campus, and not significantly affected by anti-Vietnam War protests until after I left. But the war was nevertheless a worrying factor when we as students occasionally thought about it in considering our career plans. In those years I thought that if the war was to be fought, the US government should get in and win it, with no holds barred. This was not an uncommon view.

The key turning point in my life came in 1969. I was due to graduate from Rice, and unlike most of my friends lacked any straightforward avenue for avoiding being conscripted into the army. After an injury induced while playing handball, I arranged for an early army physical in the hope of obtaining a medical deferment. The few hours experience at the physical itself plus what I knew about the army already was enough to precipitate my decision to avoid conscription. What repelled me was the regimentation and authoritarianism. I was afraid that some things I cared for about myself -- such as my optimism and my emotional sensitivity, such as it was -- would not survive the army experience, irrespective of going to Vietnam.

After assessing the options for avoiding conscription, I decided to emigrate to Australia. Canada was a more obvious place to go, but I disliked the idea of being so nearby to the US where I wouldn't be able to go, as I then assumed would always be the case. My parents were very supportive of me in my decision to leave the US. Refusing to be conscripted is not entirely out of line with certain types of right-wing anti-government attitudes, which can sometimes swing into a wider anti-authoritarianism as in my case.

Once in Australia, it took me several years of thinking and reading to come to grips with what I had done. I had always been a voracious reader. Now I read social analysis, politics, the history of the Vietnam War and much else. Gradually I began to understand some of the driving forces behind social and political arrangements. Being away from the US was also a true educational experience, allowing a more dispassionate inspection of the assumptions which I had grown up with.

My avoidance of conscription had been reactive rather than carefully thought out. Having taken that action then led me to think and rethink my views. Thus for me, in a fundamental way, action had led to thought, not vice versa. Ever since then I have been sceptical of approaches to social improvement based solely on convincing people. I would much rather encourage them to act and so convince themselves.

In my first several years in Australia I was not involved in social action to any degree. While doing my Ph.D. in theoretical physics I read and studied a lot on a range of topics, without much interaction with others on the issues I was considering. Though undoubtedly inefficient and undirected at first, my isolated study of social issues was very productive in that I learned to think for myself, and to have faith in my own judgements. Getting away from formal coursework was an advantage too, since I had usually found that this inhibited rather than encouraged my learning.

After slow beginnings of involvement in education, environmental and radical science issues in Sydney, my full-fledged involvement in social action groups began on moving to Canberra in 1976. The issue was uranium mining and the group was Friends of the Earth. The activists in FOE then were committed to grassroots organising, to raising political as well as environmental objections to nuclear power, and to participatory group dynamics and non-hierarchical organisation. It fitted nicely with the theoretical views I had come to by then. I learned an enormous amount from the young but experienced activists in the anti-uranium campaign. Since then I have continued in FOE and also since 1979 in Canberra Peacemakers which I helped to form.

There has been a high turnover of people in the social movement groups in which I've been involved. Many have dropped out, while quite a few leading activists have become 'burnt out' after working too hard. Several things about my life have helped me maintain involvement. First, I have had a full-time job -- as a researcher in applied mathematics -- that allows a lot of flexibility. So long as I have done satisfactory research work, my time has been free to arrange as I please. This allows attending meetings, working on leaflets and articles and so forth. But it is just as important that I am not a full-time activist. Having a generally congenial job to do provides an escape from too much activism and potential burnout.

Second, my home life is very steady and routine. My wife Kathy does not share my social and political interests and activities, but she tolerates some of them. She has never wanted to have children, and not having any means we have more time for other things.

Third, I have always been a well-organised person, and I have tried to utilise this trait to become an efficient activist. I keep copies of all correspondence, notes on books and articles I read, and other material, all in alphabetical order. I keep a list of things I need to do, such as a list of articles I am writing or plan to write. When I make a commitment, I do my best to follow through.

Fourth, it is my involvement in social action groups which provides many of my most satisfying and motivating experiences. Academia is a very unsupportive environment for a social activist. In Friends of the Earth and Canberra Peacemakers we try to provide emotional support as well as performing tasks. The energy I gain from involvement in these groups helps keep me going in other areas.

Here are some points I think are important for individuals involved in social action.

* Ways need to be provided for people to be involved in social activism in their own way, sometimes as individuals and sometimes in groups, operating at different levels and open to interaction with others in suitable ways. There is no one best way to be an effective social activist, no one most important issue, and no single thing that everyone should be doing.

* People should avoid making others, and especially themselves, feel guilty for not doing enough. Guilt-tripping of oneself is one cause of burnout for activists.

* On the other hand, it is important to avoid escapes and consumer gratifications -- television, drugs, trendy lifestyles, etc. -- that provide excuses for doing nothing.

* Self-discipline is important. There are severe problems with many institutions, such as schooling, state bureaucracies and the military. But reacting against everything associated with such institutions can be a problem: learning, discipline and planning, for example, may be rejected because they are associated with corrupt institutions. Rather than rejecting learning, discipline and planning altogether, they should be reconstructed, redirected and rechannelled, to serve a self-managing and self-reliant society.

* The notion that other people -- leaders or experts -- are addressing the important questions about social problems should be tossed out. Individuals need to address these questions themselves, and develop individual modes of commitment and social action.

* People should be encouraged to make their own judgements. By all means let us compare our views with others, but not slavishly depend on gurus and orthodoxies.

Rosemary Walters

I was born in 1950. I was often told I had great 'potential' and the feeling that I ought to do something significant with my life has remained with me.

A strong imagination and powerful emotions were intensified by my frequent bouts of illness which confined me to bed with books and fantasies.

Though there were lots of discussions among the adults in our extended family, I can remember thinking to myself that the opinions expressed never went outside the house. We were a very private family and, as I heard the trams go by outside, I felt like there was a thick wall between us and the other residents of Bendigo, Victoria.

I was deeply religious and by the age of 12 had resolved to be a missionary. This was not encouraged by either my family or by my Melbourne Church of England School. I can remember the lack of enthusiasm which greeted an essay of mine about uniting the various churches. Neither teachers nor students were interested in my concern about religious matters or about world poverty.

Nevertheless I retained my desire to convert others to my viewpoint -- a desire which has motivated much of my activism. There was more to my religious feelings, however, than just a desire to out-argue others. As I learned more about the extent of evil in the world, I resisted the temptation to be overwhelmed with despair by believing that there is something good working its way through the mess. That 'something good' is what I would call the Spirit of God. I see evidence of its power on a large scale in such phenomena as the growth of the environmental movement in which the typical materialism of Australians is partly balanced by a concern for more lasting values. On a smaller scale, I see the power of the Spirit in the tenacity with which people in oppressive regimes insist on speaking the truth despite horrifying punishments and in the way people with lives of misery -- prostitution, drug-taking and self-hatred -- can become healed and whole again.

However before reaching this faith, I had a long period of agnosticism -- a very valuable time of re-thinking. During this period, at the age of 22, I worked as a teacher on an Aboriginal settlement in the Northern Territory. I was shocked by the housing conditions of Aboriginal people and made my first clumsy attempt at changing 'society' by going on 'strike' in one area of my work. With no knowledge of how to organise community or fellow-teacher support for my efforts, I achieved no improvements in Aboriginal housing and received a few passing 'put-downs' from my superior officers.

While on the settlement I read Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch. Fired with rage due to these new perceptions, I verbally attacked the males I knew, most of whom had traditional assumptions about male-female relationships. (This was 1972.) From this inept individualistic experience I learned that anger merely entrenches people further into their positions. Other approaches are needed if ideas and behaviour are to change.

These failures did not discourage me. When I returned to Canberra, I soon joined Action for World Development, Freedom from Hunger Campaign, the Campaign against Racial Exploitation, Force Ten and Amnesty International. I also worked with the Canberra Learning Exchange and School Without Walls and wrote a book with a Schools Commission grant.

What impelled me to be so active? Looking back on it, I feel tired just remembering it all.

I was lonely and desperately wanted friends. The people I met in these organisations were among the few I had ever found who shared the concerns I had had since I was a teenager. It was a great relief to talk to people who regarded world hunger as an outrage.

In addition to wanting like-minded friends, I also wanted a sense of identity. I was terrified of being the bland woman represented on the covers of Women's Weekly: a woman no-one would notice.

The usual means by which people obtained a sense of identity seemed closed to me. My job was dull at that time, I was unmarried (and fearful that marriage would submerge my identity further) and I couldn't study, having developed a loathing of it at school.

I wanted my identity to be fashioned around something substantial and useful that I (and others) could respect. And of course, at the age of 24, I thought that it would be relatively easy to achieve world-change. It all seemed so obvious. You just had to change people's views.

I worked very hard, frequently becoming ill but feeling too driven to stop. I did training in human-relations work because I felt so lacking in peace within myself.

At this stage I was still an agnostic. Dismayed by the meaninglessness of existence, I was determined to carve out a meaning for myself by deciding that some things were worth working for.

When my mother died, I was quite diminished by grief. I lost my desire to argue vociferously and overpoweringly (a desire I don't want to regain). I felt crushed and weak.

At this time, I started to look for God again, a search which intensified with the difficulties I was to face.

For some months things seemed to become worse and worse. My personal life, my work and my home life were all going wrong. Eventually I caught glandular fever and came to a full stop.

Unable to work with groups or to visit friends much, my need to be recognised and noticed deepened. In my diaries there were entries such as: "I feel turbulent. I feel like I want to win a contest and slay an opponent and overcome huge odds and be admired." The absence of my activism threw up feelings which showed some of the purposes that the activism had served.

On a brief trip to Indonesia made immediately upon recovery, a chance remark from a friend prompted me to look into the Movement Against Uranium Mining. Upon meeting the MAUM group, I rushed into activity with all the enthusiasm of my pent-up need to be noticed after my secluded illness. My energy was met with a lukewarm reaction from the group.

By this time I had too much experience and confidence as an activist to be discouraged. I had earlier dropped my Third World activism, discouraged by the enormity of the problems. I now saw a chance to indirectly contribute to that situation by reducing the global degradation caused by the First World.

After a couple of months of meetings, I made a commitment to the group and have attended almost every weekly meeting for several years, persisting even when numbers were low and times were difficult.

Soon after this at the age of 30, I joined a group house in Lyneham, a Canberra suburb. It was a Student Christian Movement house with a 'companion' dwelling nearby. Suddenly I belonged. I was part of a group that accepted me and in which I could relax and be myself. I had an identity within that group and particularly within that household.

This newfound happiness released a burst of creativity. I wrote many letters to the Canberra Times as well as articles and contributions to leaflets. I made countless phone calls for Friends of the Earth and helped in many other ways. As an activist I was less frantic but more productive than I'd been before.

However our group house was very demanding. I can remember being up half the night dealing with a drunken person and then driving to an anti-nuclear conference the next morning. Inevitably I became exhausted and burnt out.

At a time when I was considering taking 6 months off activism, I was urged to become president of the Conservation Council of the South East Region and Canberra. I strongly resisted the idea.

I eventually chose to become president for several reasons. I was greatly encouraged by several friends. I believed (correctly) that the job would be difficult and demanding and, though I wanted a rest, I also still wanted a challenge and a sense of achievement.

For two years, I had as much challenge as I could handle. I was a strong leader on the Conservation Council, in our group house and in the classroom where I taught and I was an old hand in Friends of the Earth. I found it very difficult, even overwhelming sometimes, but very satisfying.

In 1983, I stopped working for the Conservation Council in order to study and take in new ideas (though activism has always been a rich source of education for me).

I now feel, at the age of 34, that I have achievements behind me, a sense of identity, recognition from people and plenty of friends.

I have nevertheless continued to work with Friends of the Earth. Why have I continued when the apparent psychological urges have been met?

One reason is that the people in FOE are old friends who I look forward to seeing every week.

Another reason is that one aspect of my mind has remained unchanged over the years. I've always had a deep pessimism about the survival of the human species. Through this pessimism there is a rather thin but persistent optimism which says "It's worth a try". Perhaps that is the Spirit pushing me on.

I'm certainly not a three-star performer as an activist these days. But I hope that I will retain that main trait that can keep me useful -- namely persistence.

Points for activists

(1) Only join one or two activist organisations. They will generate more work than you can do.

(2) Carrying out promises between meetings is at least as important as being at the meeting. Don't rush from one meeting to another, leaving no time to do work or background reading.

(3) Be organised.

(4) Be on time.

(5) Thank others for their contributions. You don't know what it may have cost them. Thank yourself, too.

(6) Learn and practise valuable skills for meetings such as: listening; not interrupting; summarising what has been said so far; putting in a good word for a maligned group member; encouraging silent people to speak if they want to; pointing to encouraging signs in your campaign.

(7) Build enjoyment into your activism.

(8) Build up relationships between members in your group.

(9) Leave time for fun and leisure. Encourage others to rest when they need to. Don't use guilt on others or on yourself.

(10) Friendships are precious: give time to them.