Is there such a thing as ‘too passionate’ to advocate?

I am pretty passionate about a lot of issues.

I guess that has been established, no?

On a weekly basis, I’m actively advocating on anti-poverty policy, domestic violence, immigration reform, early childhood education, mental health, hunger, GLBT oppression, and public education.

I care about all of those things–and more–deeply.

But over the past several months, my reaction to another issue has forced me to consider, in a way that I really haven’t before, if sometimes there are issues we are too invested in to be effective advocates.

See, I’m still fundamentally not okay, at all, about the fact that someone could get access to high-powered weapons and blast into a school and murder first graders.

My Sam is a first grader.

And, while I completely agree with those who lament that it takes that kind of random gun violence to provoke an uprising, instead of the numbingly, achingly routine gun violence that robs thousands of young people of their futures–in less public but no less tragic ways–somehow, undeniably, this, for me, is different.

So, while on just about every other issue, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at laying out a case, using language of common values, building bases of power, and finding middle ground, when it comes to guns, I am sort of totally unreasonable.

I can’t seem to articulate arguments much beyond: “WHY do you need assault weapons? WHY?”

I admire, greatly, and support financially, the work of nonprofits who have seized the momentum created in this opening window of opportunity to push for better gun laws.

And, I mean, I advocate.

I sign their petitions and I have written to my members of Congress. It doesn’t make me feel better, in this case, the way that it usually does, but I have.

I joined 1 Million Moms for Gun Control, and I am heartened to the point of awe at how they have turned their outrage into action, and how they’re building a movement with people who never realized they were movement-builders.

But when it comes to really engaging in social change, which requires, well, ‘engaging’ people, I struggle. It’s hard for me to get much past the “NEVER AGAIN”.

Sometimes I cry.

I can talk about deportation policy at cocktail parties. I can debate the (nil) merits of drug-testing public assistance recipients in line at the grocery store. I actually respond to those email forwards that people send around about Social Security and unemployment benefits.

But, when it comes to gun, I feel like I’ve got a blind spot. I sort of freeze, because I really have trouble comprehending that others aren’t moved in the same way, to the same place, that I am, by the horrifying realization that we are so vulnerable, while there are so many speedy and efficient ways for people to kill.

So I hope, dear readers, that you’ll give me some context here. Are there issues on which you feel like you’re ‘too close’, or ‘too charged’, to be effective advocates? Are there some causes that you have to stay away from, because they are too painful for you to take on? Are there issues where you cheer from the sidelines, not because you don’t care, but because you might care too much?

Or have you learned to channel these emotions, so that you can be a potent force even on issues that are triggers (absolutely NO pun intended; I couldn’t think of a good substitute word) for you? Do you have any advice, that might help me get enough virtual distance, so that I can sort of get over myself and be actually helpful?

Because I want to be. I’m just not certain that I don’t, maybe, want it too much.

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6 responses to “Is there such a thing as ‘too passionate’ to advocate?

  1. The “being too invested” in an issue to do policy work for it effictively is something I’ve thought about a lot too. Example — I couldn’t do reproductive health/birth control policy work. :/

  2. Guns – wow…HUGE trigger for me as well. I, too, have a son in the first grade.

    When I think of even attempting to do any real advocacy work in relation to gun control, I just feel enraged…too enraged, I think, to be effective or even “heard” by anyone with an opposing viewpoint/on the other side of the debate. I’d be curious to hear if anyone has found a way to get past these types of issues and ultimately become an effective advocate for the issues so close to their heart…

    • Thank you for the comment, Taylor. It’s good to hear from you! For me, I think that just acknowledging how much harder this particular issue is helped. My youngest daughter and I made a lobbying visit to Senator Moran’s office on Wednesday, in advance of the Senate test vote, and I gave myself the kindness of a lot of preparation, when normally I could just do that kind of visit as a drop-by. I had to really practice what I wanted to say, to be aware of where the greatest triggers would be. I still don’t think it was my best effort ever, but it felt good to get off the sidelines, and it really required accepting that this is a tough battle for me to engage in.

  3. Reblogged this on Katie's Rambling Self – Creation and commented:
    I need to read this later.

  4. Pingback: Top 30 Blogs for Social Workers 2012

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