Today’s guest is one of the coolest chicks I know (and you too, soon!), and a conversation that’s a LONG time coming: scholar/writer/teacher/activist Natalia Mehlman Petrzela.
Natalia is a historian of contemporary American politics and culture and is currently writing a book on American fitness culture. She is the author of Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture, and the co-host of Past Present Podcast, a show that turns hindsight into foresight by examining what’s going on in America today through a historical lens. Natalia is Associate Professor of History at The New School, a co-founder of wellness education program Healthclass 2.0and a Premiere Leader of intenSati, a fitness class that combines cardio with positive affirmations to make the ultimate uplifting workout.
In this episode we talk about talking to kids about what’s going on in our country/world in an “appropriate” way, where our quest for happiness and “following your bliss” really came from and if it’s actually serving us, making wokeness more than a gimmick, locker room talk (no, not in THAT way), feminism/activism’s place in the wellness industry, and so, SO much more.
natalia speaking on our "how to activate your inner activist" panel in 2017
I think we can all agree: it’s been quite the year so far (*LOL to the understatement of the decade). Every single person I talk to says some combo of the same things: I’m fired up. I want to make a change. I’m ready to fight. I’m exhausted. I don’t know what to do. I feel called to action.
Overwhelming, right? I know how you feel.
Over the last few months, I’ve had politically and culturally charged conversations with people I would have never expected to talk about these things with so candidly. A common concern I started to hear from most people was that they were worried they weren’t overtly “activisty” enough to be an activist – which, really, was a worry rooted less in their desire to help and moreso their fear of being shamed or judged. Oof.
As I talked to more and more people, I realized I wanted to help. I wanted to meet them where they were at and help them go outside their comfort zones *gradually,* so that eventually the uncomfortable would become comfortable. I realized that while I was on board with all forms of activism, I was most interested in exploring the seemingly small but huge things people could do NOW to make an impact, not exhaust themselves, stay in this for the long haul…and do it all in a way that would feel aligned with who they are.
Last Sunday, I had the honor of making my dream panel come to life: an intimate yet powerful conversation with five activist-minded WANT Women and Men (Lauren Bille of The Big Quiet and Cycles + Sex, actor and playwright Patrick Burns, Christen Brandt of She’s The First, Jahan Mantin of Project Inkblot, historian Natalia Petrzela of Past Present) about how to make a difference in a way that’s in alignment with who you are. This dynamic discussion, held at the gorgeous HUBseventeen space below Lululemon’s Flatiron flagship, was for anyone who was new to activism, struggling to figure out ways to make a difference in their OWN way, or just curious as to what “activism” can look like beyond marches and protests.
I wish I could adequately express the energy in the room. It was...electric. Comforting. Eye-opening. On-the-edge-of-your-seat. A big long exhale and ‘I thought I was the only one!’
Here are some of the best takeaways from the day:
1) Use social media wisely. Instead of using social media as a venting ground, use it to share events happening this week (awesome suggestion by Lauren). Without pushing your viewpoints on someone else, share everything from rallies to donation-based yoga classes happening nearby. Social media can be a great way to help people find options that might work for them, whether YOU are able to attend or not. You never know who’s reading that has been looking for a way to take action.
2) …Speaking of which, focus on the common ground instead of the shakey ground. Natalia stressed the importance of educating yourself and learning about the “whys” behind the “whats.” Not just for your own personal benefit – but so you can have more nuanced, productive interactions with the world around you. People who, say, voted the opposite way you did – they have hopes and dreams for this big world, too. Instead of grilling or shaming someone about their choices, ask why and actually listen. Maybe they’re worried about affording healthcare. Maybe they’re passionate about education. Whether it’s on social media with acquaintances or around the dinner table with family, find the things you agree on. You’ll probably realize you have a lot more in common than you thought – and maybe, just maybe, each of you will be able to learn about a new perspective.
3) Be proactive, not reactive. One of the biggest themes of the afternoon was the importance of listening – and then doing something with that information. It’s really easy to let our emotions go crazy when things get under our skin, but now more than ever is the time to press the pause button. Just like negative self-talk, it’s easier to bond over what we loathe instead of fighting for what we love. Instead of fuming about the latest headline with your friends, probe as to why each of you feel the way you do – and then ask, non-rhetorically (as Christen said), So what are we doing to do about this? In order for progress to be made, the days of venting ad nauseum need to come to a close. As Patrick said, “Conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue.”
4) Privilege is complicated, but it’s not something to feel guilty about. Privilege is a sticky subject. Some people argue that being able to be an “activist” is a privilege in and of itself – however, many people will also say that some don’t have the privilege of turning a blind eye and NOT being an activist. One big takeaway from Sunday was to be honest with yourself about whatever your situation or life has looked like and then do something with it. Christen spoke about how powerful it is to create “safe spaces” – how it’s important to show up time and time again and know not only when it’s important to speak up but when to shut up. We take cues from each other. And she’s realized that her “privilege,” so to speak, can help model the behavior she wants to see out in the world – one that doesn’t assume what someone else’s experience is like or discriminate by class, race, gender, or who we love.
5) Small actions can lead to big impact, from the inside out. It doesn’t matter what you do or who you are, you CAN make a difference. If you’re an employee who wants to create change within their company, for example, keep throwing ideas into the mix and eventually one will stick. The first one might fall on deaf ears, but keep going. Something as small as a conversation with someone in the grocery store can shift lives. “You never know what is going to start a ripple effect,” Jahan told us. “You start with one ripple, then another, then another – and eventually, that’s how you make waves.”
6) Activism doesn’t always need to be loud to be heard. Okay, that one’s my own. What resonates with one person might fall on deaf ears with another. I think it does a disservice to the causes at hand to force one “form” of activism on everyone. It makes it seem like activism only looks one way – and can often lead to the kind of black-and-white thinking (You’re selfish if you don’t march! or How can you call yourself a feminist/activist/ally if you don’t XYZ?) that discourages newbie activists from taking that powerful first step of their own.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a powerful march. But I know that’s just ONE part of the equation. The more we can find ways to speak up in ways that are in alignment with who we are, the more comfortable we get with getting uncomfortable, the more we’ll cause a ripple effect within ourselves and others. We’ll eventually feel more comfortable with getting more and more uncomfortable. What once felt awkward and fearful will feel awakened and fearless.
Activating your inner activist doesn’t have to be complicated or obvious – it can start with one conversation and go from there. Inch by inch. Step by step. That’s how you build up a voice that resonates in the long run.
HUGE thanks to HUBseventeen for being such fierce supporters of WANT and allowing us to take over your space for the afternoon, and to Lauren, Patrick, Christen, Jahan, and Natalia for sharing so much of yourselves and making the very first WANT panel in NYC a wild success – and to YOU, the WANT peeps, for being the reason this community is as powerful as it is. Not only did you pack the room, but your questions and enthusiasm had us all on the edge of our seats.
All proceeds from this event went directly to Planned Parenthood.
There is a dark cloud over our world right now and for weeks I was trying to decide what to do and how to proceed. And no, that doesn’t mean using hashtags and prayers (although those should never be thrown aside because every teensy tinesy step counts). I realized that “doing something” meant talking to EVERYONE, asking questions, and ESPECIALLY informing myself when it comes to perspectives other than my own. This has been my MO for as long as I can remember, but this month has been a huge, grim reminder that I can do more and be better and search harder and dig deeper. Always.
However, there is a delicate balance. For me, someone who has been born into skin deemed “white” and therefore has never experienced racism firsthand, I’ve wanted to gain massive insight on how I can be an ally and work toward change beyond posting an article on FB or a hashtag on Instagram (both of which are still important and will continue to do). But I know that some people aren’t ready to jump into explaining “How You Can Help” to me. The country is grieving right now. The world is grieving. And it’s wrong to assume that just because one person wants answers, another person is ready (emotionally) to give them counsel.
And so I wanted to have a conversation about it….and so, so more.
Enter Erica Chidi Cohen.
Blending her skills as a doula, lactation counselor and chef, Erica guides expectant parents through their pregnancy and transition into parenthood. Her intuitive and gentle approach, coupled with her expertise has helped hundreds of families easily adjust into their new roles with support and confidence.
In 2013 Erica founded The Mama Circle, which focused on nurturing women into motherhood. The Mama Circle provided doula services, lactation counseling, nutritional support as well as prenatal, postpartum and parenting education programs.
Her newest venture, LOOM, is co-founded with Quinn Lundberg and set to open in Los Angeles in 2017. LOOM will be a wellness hub for pregnancy and parenting offering coaching, classes and community events.
Erica’s first book on pregnancy and early motherhood will be published by Chronicle Books and released in fall 2017.
What I LOVE about this episode is how unexpectedly seamlessly all the topics flow together. From ways to practice gratitude during times of strain to how to prep for motherhood even if you don’t really know if you’re wanting kids yet to the generational wounds triggered by the most recent shootings and racist violence, this conversation with Erica is filled with wisdom, introspection, and inspiration to stay not only grounded, but balance being both empathetic and self-loving at the same time. Basically: what it means to confront the uncomfortable in all aspects of life.
If you are feeling low, please do not berate yourself for being so profoundly affected…even if you can’t put words to it. Energy is neither created nor is it destroyed. Our world is at an empathetic standstill, which means that those who DO feel deeply might be feeling enough for many others who don’t have the awareness or courage to sit with and process their own emotions. It’s okay. Feel all you feel, and feel it deeply. And then once you’ve let it sink into your bones, like calcium to the skeleton, use that empathetic energy you’ve metabolized to TAKE SUCH STRONG AND POWERFUL action that the world can’t help but be better for you being in it.
Thank you a million times over to Erica for sharing so much of herself with all of us. This episode is a must-listen. Be sure to listen until the end for a challenge for all WANTcast listeners – one of those small things that can make a HUGE difference.
Like this episode? Shoot me a comment below, leave a review on iTunes (the more reviews, the more Erica’s awesomeness is spread), share it on Facebook, tweet it out on Twitter, or post it onInstagram. Be sure to use the hashtags #WANTcast, #womenagainstnegativetalk, and/or #WANTyourself!