This weekend I was waiting by the phone for 6 hours like a love struck puppy. I had tracked down the key activist in Hong Kong who is organising democratic trade unions in China. A fierce radical woman, what’s not to love?
Hour 5 of missed calls and sharp email exchanges about my flabby-lactose-oozing Western perspective on the revolution and I’m getting the feeling she’s-just-not-that-into-me. Sheesh, heroes are hard to love.
She calls me from a lift at 11pm and it starts badly. She’s refusing to talk about the topic of the interview, and wants to know my left-wing credentials. In this type of situation I pull out the big guns, the things that normally send HRM and single men running for the hills. Organizing in the diamond mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo and negotiating human rights in the Transcaucasus usually do the trick. An NVQ in trade union radicalism.
There then proceeds to be 20 minutes of inspired and wise stuff on what it takes to build democracy in Hong Kong and China. I fall for this woman, her sharp analysis of the human condition and her decision to do something about it despite the large personal sacrifices that it entails.
And then it comes, 10 minutes before the end. The Guilt Trip.
This pretty much always happens when you’re talking to people who are ideologically compelled. There’s an attempt to squirrel up all the energy and love in our exchange for the cause. Ten minutes of how the entire world’s precious experience leads us to one, and only one conclusion about how the world should be organized. And the inevitable guilt inducing demand that I drop my complicity with the neo-liberal system and immediately go to China to research the organising methods of autonomous Chinese activists.
It appears it’s my moral imperative.
There’s a kind of begrudging love between activists, a shared idea of solidarity or ‘brotherly love’. This love is close to the Greek word agape, which is a love and affection which exists whether its returned or not. A kind of benevolent feeling you have on Christmas day, for a sibling that can be quite annoying but deep down you are on the same side in a hostile environment.
This kind of love is essential for surviving the pressures activists put each other under. All for the cause apparently but often driven by a vicious internal voice that demands we sacrifice everything to save the world. Beautiful and delusional at exactly the same time.
So I muster up a technological failure and the interview ends in time for me to go to my friend B’s 50th. B is my heroine – a whole lifetime of activism ending up last year with being chucked out of our union for being, well, black and having ‘pinions. She asked us all to turn up with memorabilia of our activisms to a cooperative bar in Hackney. You know it.
Expecting bad t-shirts and exaggerated stories of saving the planet I turn up to the heart beating stuff of being with people that I admire. From Chile to child labour, people who have been compelled to try. Just a bunch of real human beings having a gentle laugh at the world that we truly have loved.
So I asked B how she kept the love for a movement that had asked too much and this was her answer.
“Ignore the weirdness and rebuffs in the first 30 seconds. Its a cry for help and fear of betrayal. Stand firm, do the talk and the walk but leave 10 minutes before the end. It’s in the mix that the revolution happens. The rest is just being able to live with yourself.”
Whatever our politics, we have to do right by ourselves. Even superheroes have to sleep at night.
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