You'll never walk alone: Cambridge and activism

Image credit: Cambridge Zero Carbon Society

I wrote my last column curled up on a beanbag in the English faculty library. I'm writing this one from my bed. I'm having to stop after every sentence to rest my arms, which can't hold my phone up for long without hurting. On days like these, when I'm unable to study, I marathon episodes of House MD - partly because they're formulaic and don't require too much focus, and partly because, maybe, dramatised obscure and complicated medical cases are strangely comforting and de-isolating to watch.

Navigating university while chronically ill is hard; balancing that with involvement in activism is both easier and harder. Today, I woke up knowing I had a limited amount of energy, and I spent that energy on stewarding for a protest march calling for the university to divest from fossil fuels, rather than on writing about Madame Bovary. But it’s not just about these trade-offs, about squeezing yet more responsibilities into a severely limited amount of time and energy; without activism, I wouldn't have the supportive community that keeps me going. I wouldn't even know about the social model of disability, let alone have discovered networks of friends who are going through similar things to me, within which we can all find sources of mutual validation and, sometimes, sparks of hope. I wouldn't understand how issues like climate justice, decolonisation, and gender and disability liberation weave into one another, giving us all points of contact and inroads into a many-layered movement to make the world a better place.

My last three columns have all had a message - the hardest work is invisible; we're stronger united. This one is more of a fatigued scream into the void. But that's okay too. We shouldn't have to feel like we have everything together alone before we can be part of collective movements. A whole lot of activism is made up of broken people helping broken people to fix and remake broken systems. When we can’t find a voice on our own, we can find one together. When we can't find the words for our own brokenness, we can march through the streets of Cambridge banging pots and pans and calling on the university, on the government, on society to start fixing theirs (and then spend achy days wrapped up in a duvet recovering).

Sometimes we’ll drop out of everything for a while, stop organising, stop replying to messages, maybe stop getting out of bed, and that's okay too. Cultivating kindness along with anger is an important part of every movement - being kind to one another, and being kind to ourselves. I still don't have either of those completely figured out yet, and maybe I never will, but we find each other in the dark and make the path together - however tired, however incoherent. However broken.

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