“This is a marathon. We have to pace ourselves to go the distance.”
That’s what everyone I knew was saying a few months after The Election. And everyone, including me, nodded in agreement. Pace myself. Yes, that makes sense.
Every day I’m involved in the work of creating a better America, I think about how to stay engaged. What can we find the courage to keep showing up despite setbacks, worsening signs, and bouts of bone-deep fatigue.
The “activism as a marathon” analogy breaks down under close inspection.
In Greek history, the first ever run from Marathon’s battlefield to Athens concluded with the runner dying. Not a great motivation. In a modern marathon, runners compete against each other. They race by choice over a single day. Their efforts are timed. Meaningful activism isn’t reflected in these details.
A marathon hints at completion. Somewhere down the road, the runner or wheelchair racer knows there’s a banner to cross under while the crowd cheers. They get a medal or a 26.2 sticker then go home to rest. By contrast, meaningful activism requires teamwork, patience, and years of endurance.
If we want to be engaged with this work, we need a different analogy.
Democracy requires cultivation like a garden. To create a government for and by the people, we plant seeds, hoping they’ll bear fruit. Yet only the passage of time will reveal the outcome. In the meantime, our task is to water regularly, pay attention, and tend the soil.
On the whole, gardeners aren’t an anxious lot. We know it’s nature’s way to grow and produce, and our role is simply to be there for support along the way. There’s no finish line. Growth and abundance, death and lack come in equal, predictable turns. Autumn arrives, and the leaves fall away. After a few months of cold, spring planting and promise return again. Over and over in a cycle.
Renewing our commitment to engagement in a new light.
In this spirit, I invite you to join me in committing to cultivate a gentler kind of activism. In the months and years ahead, let us tend our democracy like the rare and unique thing it is—lush and growing and hopeful. No more sputtering in fury or cursing the slugs when they make their slimy way into my strawberries. They too are part of the journey.
Let us remind ourselves to trust that things keep growing month after month, year after year. To make peace with the bone-deep fatigue of hard work, granting ourselves permission to take a good rest to restore the spirit. Then show up again to tend and nurture.
Most of all, let us trust that everything has its season, and all efforts bear fruit in time. Because it does, and they will.