Activists make the best lovers

Last week Thailand went belly up. Incongruous as it may seem, this land of beautiful beaches and beautiful people has a dark heart. Every year hundreds of activists disappear, lose their jobs and get sent to prison. One of them is my friend Somyot Prueksakasemsuk.


Three years ago he was arrested for producing a fairy story in a political magazine he edited. He didn’t write it, didn’t mention the king but he was arrested under Lese Majeste for high treason and sentenced to 11 years.


I worked with Somyot for a decade, channelling solidarity funding to the small shoots of democracy in the industrial zones around Bangkok. We’d spent hot nights hanging out in cafes munching shrimp and giving English lessons to young workers to get them to talk, mainly to each other and then dare them to join a union. He is one of the best organizers I have ever met and has taken the opportunity of being incarcerated to organize Burmese and Moslem prisoners to read in his role as the Librarian of Bangkok Prison.


Somyot is made of the brave stuff, but he’s also literally the worst driver I’ve ever met, he is stubborn and proud and would never ever say sorry even to me when he laughed so hard at the sight of my white hairy western arms he crashed the car we were driving in. Another characteristic of good activists is always, however bleak, to find the funny.


All good activists are real human beings and like other human beings too. This probably nailed him being put into prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He is interested in other people and when he asks what they think he opens himself up to the possibility of being influenced by what they say.  He is a true democrat.


Whether you’re a union rep or fighting for mental health services we do it with love.


Activists make the best lovers because they open themselves up to others, understanding profoundly that our imperfections and vulnerabilities are precisely what allows us to rub along. If we allow ourselves to be human it’s just a psychic skip and a hop to needing each other.


It means that the biggest threat to activism is that the heart hardens.


Petrified by the meanness of the betrayals and denials and the chicken-shit excuses we make to avoid contact with other people. Much like falling in love, being an activist involves facing up to a paradox in human life.  The hazard of opening yourself up to the experience of other people, and your vulnerability to them letting you down, is that it’s tempting to balance this with our natural defences.  To cut our hearts out with spoons.


To up the ante activists often have superegos like tanks making us vulnerable to overwork, building crescendos of resentment and burnout. That internal voice that propels us to go on yet another demo or rainy school-night meeting when our precious hearts are screaming out “it is your spiritual duty to stay on the sofa eating crisps”.


This week Surviving Work is launching the Activist’s Survival Guide. You can download it, give it a squeeze and then send it to any big hearted activists that you know.


Like all good lovers, you’ll need to give a bit back so send us your materials and activities and we’ll put them up on the Activist’s Survival Guide page so that other loving fools can use them.

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