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Being the Activist Part II: Alchemy and the Activist

Dream One:

‘I am in a hallway in my home and I am trying to avoid Anthony Joshua and Mike Tyson as they fight. Joshua is backing up as Tyson comes forward. I go upstairs until I get to the landing on the 1st floor.  I am really afraid their fight will spill outside onto the road.;

16th of Jan 2024

…….. this involved being with, sitting with, enduring the pain of their own incarceration, their own solitude, the pain of their own powerlessness in the face of massive systemic odds. 

In many ways, I believe Sylvia Pankhurst knew this (Pankhurst, 1979).  Through her artwork and her poetry, she found solace within whilst enduring her external was incarceration under the horrific Cat and Mouse laws which kept her semi-shackled to a patriarchal prison system which wanted to silence her (Bitesize, 2020).  That she endured, that she found the strength of character through her artwork, through just who she must have been as a person, says a lot about the shadow work activists need to do in order to protect themselves from the systemic slings and arrows of hatred’s fortune.  Yet, it is also through this inner working, this inner exploration that one does something more, I strongly believe.    

The shadow work of an activist is therefore the theme for this month’s blog.  This Part 2 in my explorations of what it is to be an activist recognises that during the fighting, even if we believe we have won, that there is still always work to do.  That the road to becoming, to being, an effective activist, is as much about how we are with ourselves, as it is how we are with the horrors of said outer world. 

‘I realized that they could take everything from me except my mind and my heart.

They could not take those things.

Those things I still had control over. And I decided not to give them away.’

(Mandela, 1994)

The inner work of the activist is therefore something which is often overlooked.  When we take on this good fight, this fight for the other(s), how do we not become that which we most fear?  How do we not punch out, punch down, or uppercut, those who we perceive as our oppressors?  Those who may or not be our oppressors?  Those who have never been our oppressors?  If every experience we have becomes internalised within us, if the systemic messaging of our family, our culture, our gender, our diversity, makes us who we are as gay men, as middle-class women, as neurodivergent white people, then when we fight for our group, as we fight against these external structures, what do we do with these systemic internalisations that made us?

The simple answer, for most activists, is that they project them outwards onto other groups.  We other the environment as it gives us something to fight against.  We other working class white men, seeing them as just men, because we need them to be our oppressors.  We other black African, Caribbean and South American persons of colour, seeing them as just black, because we are too lazy to see them in their colourful diversities.  We other all types of neurodivergences together, because we are unwilling to think long and hard enough about the range and complexities of ways of being and thought in our world. 

Even if we win one fight, our fight, we are still challenged to see the complexity, the beauty, of human existence.  Yet, in order to do this, in order to retain, to regain, that perspective of and proximity to that unobjectified woman, that demisexual person, that immigrant family, there always needs to be the constant self-reviewing of our own oppressive stereotypes.  For us to see their humanity in anywhere near its fullness, we have to become increasingly aware that we ourselves are the devils of lore.  We ourselves, in our wish to belong to the systems which so oppressed us, to have our seat at said table, hold the overseers whip of oppression over the other(s). 

For myself, Mandela recognised that.  In his words, in his realisation that if he took with him his hatred and his pain when he left prison, that he would be no better than those who had incarcerated him all those years before.  The imposed meditation, that enforced exile into himself, was a kind of individuative activism.  An activism which whittles away the shackles of the internalised oppression Akbar talks about regarding slavery, and presents a pathway towards activistic allyship as a means where we might all be free together (Akbar, 1984). 

Dream Two:

Scene where there has been a long battle between myself and another person to be the head of a country.  It is over now, and I walk up to a throne on a dais and sit down, because I have won.  My enemy has a spider that crawls on the floor.  I kill it by hitting it with a shoe.  I hear a news report which reluctantly proclaims my victory, as I instruct my colleagues to take the body of the spider away.

18th Jan 2024

In her explication of the idea of Radical Self Care, Angela Davis saw that for any activist meditation and inner reflection are core parts of the movement beyond the trauma of systemic abuse (Afropunk, 2019).  Like Pankhurst, like Mandela, Davis did much of her self-reflection whilst she was in prison, and there seems to be something important about that removal from life for the activist, that movement inwards to discover the unconscious messages held within, which is important.  Whilst I have never been to prison myself, I believe all three were right in their means of survival and use my own time away from the front lines to turn inwards and discover the messages held in the alchemical soup of the collective unconscious which you all need to bear witness to.

There is suffering in these incarcerations, immense pain visited upon those who wished to do so much more but were restricted by the system to such an extent that their power was seemingly blunted.  Yet, all three put these moments, these darkened times, to better use.  They saw the inner beauty arising out of the shit of their sometimes solitary incarcerations.    

Have I myself suffered along my path towards activism?  Of course I have.  And I have written about some of my own suffering in other blogs.  Yet, has my own suffering brought with it nuggets of gold which have enriched the lives of others who read these blogs?  Whilst I hope so, I am never entirely sure. 

My two dreams presented here speak to the pain of this internalised process during the period of writing these two blogs.  The pain of activism is in both, the fear of my own power, the eventual winning and besting of the external world order.  Of these symbols and their many meanings, a couple of things stand out.  That the symbols are all parts of myself, in Jungian terms I am every aspect, good or bad, black or white.  The important aspects though are that I prevent my own fight from spilling outside to be projected upon the world, and that I eventually win.  Yet, a warning.  The winner is not generated from defeating that which sits outside of us.  It is ultimately discovered within, and then manifest externally, from where it becomes more than just human.  From where it becomes something ethereal. 

From where, I believe, it then becomes unstoppable.

‘I know we will create a society where there are no rich or poor,

no people without work or beauty in their lives,

where money itself will disappear,

where we shall be brothers and sisters, where everyone will have enough.’

(Pankhurst quoted in Pugh, 2008)


Afropunk. (2019). Radical Self Care: Angela Davis. YouTube.

Akbar, N. (1984). Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery. New Mind.

Bitesize. (2020). Suffragettes in prison. BBC News Online.

Mandela, N. (1994). Long Walk To Freedom. Abacus Publishing.

Pankhurst, R. (1979). Sylvia Pankhurst: Artist and Crusader. Paddington Press.

Pugh, M. (2008). The Pankhursts: The history of one radical family. Vintage Books.