White flowers and wild succulents among the rocks. Photo by Jennifer Willis.

how to stand up while sitting down

Several weeks ago, I was excited to learn that some local authors were mobilizing to participate in the occupation at Portland’s ICE facility. The idea was to hold down the fort during the day for the protestors who had to leave to go to their jobs, and that writers and digital nomads and similar others could set up shop with lawn chairs and personal WiFi hotspots and get some work done while participating in a protest action.

My first reaction was, “Great! I can sit in a chair and be productive while making a difference!” I started making plans to head down to SW Macadam. But that didn’t last long.

I realized that on top of the tech I would need to pack, there were quite a few logistical and other challenges I had to take into consideration — it’s part of living (and resisting) with chronic illness and chronic pain, because there are so many more factors that have to be weighed, and it sucks.

In my case, I need to make sure I stay hydrated — what looks like over-hydration for a normal person — so I don’t get really sick. Then, because of all of those fluids (and due to other dysautonomia symptoms), I need regular access to a comfortable bathroom. I need to consider outdoor temperature and sun exposure, and other environmental conditions. I need to consider near access to parking. I need to plan what I’ll do if I get sick, or if the migraine flares, or if I start to feel extra dizzy or faint. And so forth. There’s only so much I can pack into a single backpack.

I was commiserating yesterday with another author friend with chronic illness, and her response was that she wished she were a visual artist so that she could capture the image of trying to cram all of that — symptoms and strategies and productivity tools — into a backpack. We also talked briefly about the possibility of getting arrested; that can be a scary enough idea on its own, but when you’re dealing with a physical disability and/or chronic illness and pain, you have to factor in concerns about how sick you might get in the process and whether or not you’ll have access to knowledgeable and appropriate medical care.

My friend is in a similar situation. We get excited about marches. We make plans to attend. And ultimately we have to beg out because we simply can’t do it. Actually, she’s marched more often than I have, and I’m in awe of her for it. I haven’t been physically present to protest since the March for Science, and even though I skipped the rally afterwards and all of the related events that followed, it still took its toll on me.

There’s a lot that’s not great in the world right now. You might have noticed. But just because you can’t physically show up doesn’t mean you don’t care. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways for you to make your voice heard.

The first and probably easiest recourse — and the effective action that far too many people don’t take — is to contact your elected representatives. And not just those in Washington, D.C. These people are in office to represent you, and they are required to be open to and to record your feedback. Phone calls are best, but that’s not always possible. There are days when my voice is really rough and my throat is tight and talking to people is simply not a constructive experience. Tools like Resistbot make it easy to compose letters that are faxed to your representatives in D.C., and websites for other electeds and officials offer contact information or even web forms for getting in touch.

Write Congress in under 2 minutes
Text the word RESIST to Resistbot on Telegram, Messenger, Twitter or to 50409 on SMS* and I’ll find out who represents you in Congress, and deliver your message to them in under 2 minutes. No downloads or apps required.

If you’re ready to call and write but you aren’t sure where to start issues-wise, I recommend having a look at (and subscribing to) Jennifer Hofmann’s Checklist for Americans of Conscience. (View the checklist for the week of 15 July 2018 here).

This checklist features clear, well-researched actions for Americans who value democracy, equality, voting, and decency. We also practice gratitude, self-care, and celebration to stay engaged.

If you’re not sure what to say during your call or in your letter, there are lots of suggested scripts available online. The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has some straightforward suggestions here.

You can also donate funds to causes you believe in, and to support those who are able to show up in person for protests. One of the things I did to support my friend participating in the Women’s March was to knit a hat for her, because that was something I could do.

Mostly, I’d like to encourage everyone to take a more active role in shaping the world you want to live in. This is especially important for those who cannot participate physically and those who do not feel safe participating physically. Decisions may be made by those who show up, but there are many more ways to show up than being physically present. We can still speak out. We can still resist. We can still stand up while sitting down.

Posted in thoughts from the spiral.

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