It’s easier to maintain a diet, break a habit, keep exercising when we’re tired, or maintain our grassroots political activism … when we push on together. (More)
Hitting the Wall, Part III: Pushing On Together (Non-Cynical Saturday)
This week Morning Feature discusses the stress of election campaigning and how activists can better manage “hitting the wall.” Thursday we saw the importance of your news diet, before and during the race. Yesterday we looked at training, exercise, and ensuring you keep the “active” in “activist.” Today we conclude with teamwork and the energy benefits of group activism.
The Power of the Peloton
First-time viewers of professional cycling may wonder why individuals – even the sport’s top stars – almost never ride off alone. Those who try usually get caught quickly by the peloton, the main pack of riders, or by a chase group. It’s not merely that the world’s top cyclists are not that much stronger than the domestiques who help teammates but rarely win races. Rather, it’s that no lone cyclist is stronger than the group, and this video helps explain why:
For the first 40 or so seconds of the video, the rider with the helmet camera is drafting on the rider in front. He finally becomes the lead rider, but he only stays there for a few hundred yards before moving over, drifting to the back of the group, and working forward for his next turn at the front. This group takes about 90 seconds for a complete rotation, with each rider at the front for only about 10 seconds. For the rest of the time, each rider is drafting … and that saves up to 30% of a rider’s energy.
It’s not hard to work out why even the world’s best riders stand little chance on their own. A lone rider has to break the wind with every turn of the pedals, with no respite. The chase group or peloton only have to keep the same pace, with most of their riders drafting most of the time, until that lone rider wears down and cracks. While a group may break away and sometimes stay away to the finish line, a single rider almost never survives unless he times his attack perfectly … usually within a few hundred yards of the finish line.
The Power of a Partner
Yesterday I discussed my experience training for a marathon. I had a training partner, and I doubt I would have stuck with the training schedule – let alone finished the race – without Karen’s help. During our weeks of preparation, there were plenty of days that I didn’t feel like running. There were also plenty of days that Karen didn’t feel like it. But there were very few days when neither of us felt like running … and neither of us wanted to disappoint the other. So on the days that I didn’t feel like running, I ran to pace Karen and keep her company. On the days she didn’t feel like running, she ran to help me.
It wasn’t simply getting started. We also kept each other going on our longer training runs. As we got tired, we’d take turns picking checkpoints up ahead and tell ourselves we could keep going for that next quarter-mile. After that, we told ourselves, if we still felt like we couldn’t run any farther, we could stop and walk for a few minutes or even all the way home. But as with starting each day’s run, neither of us wanted to let the other down … and one of us usually felt strong enough to keep running when we reached that next checkpoint. So the other would plod along, and usually within a few minutes the tired runner would catch a “second wind.” (Or a third or fourth or tenth.)
Karen and I kept each other going – one day to the next, one checkpoint to the next – through our training schedule and through the marathon we ran together.
The Power of Party or Group Activism
These same dynamics apply with political activism. No matter how intensely you care about a candidate or issue, there are days when you just don’t feel like registering voters, gathering petitions, making phone calls, knocking on doors, writing letters to the editor or your elected leaders, and the other work of grassroots activism. That can be and often is fun, but it’s still work … and anyone who tells you otherwise either hasn’t “hit the wall” yet or is being less than entirely truthful.
When you “hit the wall” on your own, it’s easy to stop. You tell yourself you’ll take a day off. Then another. A few days becomes a week, then a month. You get busy with other things and wonder why political activism seemed so important. There is more to life, after all. You take up other interests, and years may pass before you get back in the saddle. I’ve been there and done that … and so has almost every experienced activist I know.
When you’re active with a group, the dynamics change. You still “hit the wall,” but most of us don’t want to disappoint our friends in the group. You may not feel like making calls or canvassing, but you can take a turn bringing the drinks and snacks, entering the data, and tallying the statistics. You and a partner or small group may set daily goals together, and give each other the gentle, often unspoken nudges that keep each other going to that day’s target, and the next day’s, and the next. Their upbeat stories ease the sting of the rude person you just spoke with, and your upbeat stories do the same for them.
If you combine the group activism with the healthy news diet we discussed Thursday and the mental exercises we discussed yesterday, “hitting the wall” becomes less a dreaded crisis, and more just one more passing phase in the grassroots activism of an election campaign. We all “hit the wall” at some point, but we can push through it together … and bring home victory on November 6th.