Rest as Resistance
By Kierra Johnson, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force and Rodney McKenzie, Vice President, Ally Development , Fetzer Institute
To say this has been a challenging time to lead organizations and do our work for the LGBTQ+ community is a huge understatement. The amount of work and pressure on our shoulders has become unsustainable, especially when so much complexity, urgency and uncertainty loom large in our lives as a staff of people directly impacted by the pandemic and the many-faceted attacks on our community.
As a result of the pandemic, these past 2+ years have been a full-out sprint, a blur of zoom meetings, emails, to-do lists and constantly changing circumstances. In addition to the unattainable expectations we have put on ourselves and each other to produce, excel and grow in our professional lives, our staff have family members who are underinsured or worse. Some of us are parents caring for children juggling remote school and some of us have elder family members to care for. Many among us have battled COVID and continue to struggle with the lingering effects of this virus. Not to mention the loved ones we’ve lost that we have been unable to adequately mourn in our faith or cultural traditions. From relentless work, unpredictable circumstances, to living in isolation from the people and experiences that bring us joy, this pandemic has undeniably and irreversibly impacted our lives.
If leadership is about guiding others to go beyond their current capabilities and not just survive, but to thrive, how can we create a new way of living and leading? This is no easy task
– —and a question we asked ourselves at the National LGBTQ Task Force as we grappled with how to build a resilient organization during a crisis. This is part of our answer.
This bold act of rest as resistance holds the key to that sustainability.
As movement leaders, we have an opportunity to model rest and care for ourselves and the people in our lives, to find ways to address our universally felt stress and fatigue of the last few years, and to pause and come back as our best selves.
In an article, titled Organizational Resilience: What is it and why does it matter during a crisis? Dr. Annette Towler suggests that “resilient organizations anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper”. While it was impossible to predict or prepare for the devastation and destruction of a global pandemic, we do believe this is an opportunity for us to learn how to be responsive to the needs of our staff and to better exercise our ability to be nimble, flexible and experimental in the future.
In the spirit of building a resilient organization and honoring the humanity of our staff and the impact of the last few years, we have concluded that it is time to take a real “pause” from our work. The National LGBTQ Task Force is taking three weeks of time for staff to break from the unrelenting stress, work and challenge of what COVID wrought. As we announced the decision on an all-staff meeting in February– on yet another Zoom call — the relief, appreciation and tears were laid bare for all to see.
We are so appreciative of our staff, board, and volunteers who have hung in there with us as we have had to make decisions in the face of multiple variants of the Covid virus, ever-changing local, state and national protocols, and varying levels of capacity due to illness and caretaking responsibilities. We are grateful for the friends and family that have kept us going the past 2+ years as we embarked on redefining success and productivity and reimagined our jobs. We have risen to the challenges set before us, again and again, pivoting over and over to make the shift to virtual events, virtual organizing, virtual lobbying and the unique situation of working with each other in a virtual environment.
Dedicating time for the staff to rest, reset and recommit is the easiest and boldest decision we could make as social justice leaders committed to building LGBTQ+ leaders across generations. We have learned so much from other organizations sharing how they are adapting to this time, and we know it is our responsibility to do the same.
The National LGBTQ Task Force will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023, one of a small number of LGBTQ organizations still doing the work five decades after the early days of “gay” activism and the 1969 Stonewall uprising. We are now under relentless attack – this year is a particularly viscous one – and the remainder of this year will take all we have to hold back the attacks and make progress where we can. We look forward to coming back stronger, focused and reaffirmed in our passion and commitment to do all we can in this critical year.