BOOKS: Do It Anyway

Quick test: How would you describe yourself? What are the first three words that come to mind? Friend, Mother, Writer, Doctor, Caretaker...

What about "Activist"?

It's a loaded title, right? An identity that certainly comes with a lot of baggage. I can think of several angsty questions that run through my mind that make me hesitant to call myself an activist. "Am I really doing enough? Is what I'm doing important? What if I mess up? Or worse, what if all the work I do results in nothing?"

In Courtney Martin's new book, Do It Anyway, Martin (who, full disclosure, helped with the launch of Her Blueprint and is a friend of IMOW) profiles eight young people in the U.S. who she describes as "breathtakingly ordinary" and who are, despite setbacks, criticism, struggles, doing what they believe in to make a change in the world. She features everyone from Raul Diaz, a case manager who helps formerly imprisoned gang members in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles re-enter society, to the actress Rosario Dawson, who uses her celebrity status to call attention to movements such as Voto Latino, which encourages the Latino American population to get to the polls.

Martin acknowledges that, in the wake of the gamechanging activists of the 60s and 70s, this generation's activism can seem less passionate, less hands-on, perhaps less effective. But she says that's a misconception. Instead, this generation's activism "exists in defining moments--usually far from the glare of the television camera's eye or the flashing red light of the journalist's voice recorder." And indeed, the eight portraits in this book exhibit that the current activists are no less dedicated, no less passionate, and no less willing to sacrifice.

I see Do It Anyway as a call to arms for a new generation of activists, of people who want to make a difference in the world despite knowing how hard it can be, how maddeningly impossible it is to Completely Change Everything. And my favorite lesson in Do It Anyway is what's called "Good Failure." Martin says that after talking to the many young activists profiled in the book, she learned "that failure is, indeed, usually inevitable." Instead, she encourages the embracing of good failures:
"Good failures are what you achieve when you aim to transform an entire broken system and end up healing one broken soul. They are the small victories ... It's not that we shouldn't aim to transform the prison industrial complex, reduce wealth disparity in this country, cure HIV and AIDS, fix public education. It's that we must hold these large-scale revolutions in our hearts while tackling small, radical acts every day with our hands. We must wake up wondering how we might fail at changing absolutely everything in such a way that we manage to change a little something."
It's an inspiring message, a reminder to give yourself permission to put your all into it, perhaps fail, wake up again despite a record of setbacks and failures, put on the cloak of Activist, and do it anyway.