Autistic Activism and Identity

A segment of a conversation I had with someone around six months ago has stuck in my head ever since. They were trying to encourage me to apply for writing jobs and referenced this blog as one of the reasons why I’d be good at that. In this process they said something along the lines of “well, you seem to consider autism the main aspect of your identity” – not in a negative way or anything, just as a statement of what they considered fact. Yet I did not agree with this at all, and I’d like to expand upon why.

I write a lot about autism on here. It’s the predominant theme of this blog, it’s something I do a lot of campaigning on and talk about frequently. Yes, I’m autistic and perfectly accepting of that fact. I think it’s important to raise awareness of the issues affecting autistic people and push for further acceptance and liberation for the autistic community alongside all neurodivergent people. It’s something important to me. But is it the main part of my identity? Not really.

In fact, I’d probably call myself an activist and campaigner first and foremost. Not just for autism issues, but climate issues, general politics and social justice campaigns. I write a lot about autism not because I view autism as my primary identity, but rather because as an autistic person AND an activist, this is a cause where I have lived experience and can contribute to improving society which is my general aim in all my activism. If I was not an activist in general, I probably wouldn’t write so much about autism (or anything).

Autism affects the way I think. It’s part of my brain, and my thoughts and feelings are what shaped me into the person I am today. It’s important, but no more or less important than other aspects of my identity, such as my political beliefs (which have also shaped me), what activities I enjoy and who I want to spend my time with. I am a person, created by my experiences, my thoughts, my emotions and all the things which have influenced those. Autism is one influence; not the sole one.

I believe in creating a world where people can thrive regardless of their neurotype. A world which accommodates sensory differences, cognitive differences and all the varying accessibility needs as much as possible. I don’t believe in creating a long-term segregated autistic community where autistic people do not engage with neurotypical people, or otherwise neurodivergent people, at all. For me, my involvement in autistic communities is around activism, to make life better for people like me.

As members of a marginalised group, autistic people can be forgiven for wanting our own spaces away from those who try to force us to conform and punish us for our differences. These are important spaces, and sorely needed in our culture. Yet they should not be the end goal; our goals should not be to create our entire identity around ‘being autistic’ and no other aspects of our personalities. It should be to create a world where we are accepted and no longer disadvantaged by our thinking style.

I don’t believe in making one influence on my development as a person my entire personality, or the one thing everyone should know about me. Reducing a complex human being to one term is never going to work out long-term, and identity only goes so far in creating a better world. We need justice for neurodivergent people, not merely awareness, or even acceptance. Publicly identifying as autistic, writing about my autism and how it affects me are good awareness and acceptance raising tools. Yet they will not alone change our society into one where autistic people can thrive.

We need to be allowed to have our identities and our terms for how we wish to describe ourselves, but in activism we need to move beyond identity towards societal change; towards changing the system. Our present system entrenches discrimination; we can push for inclusion into the system but as long as the system still exists some people will be marginalised. It may be a different group tomorrow than it was today, but it will still be someone. Neurodivergent identity is important, but neurodivergent justice is far more so.

Demands, Principles & Values

[Image Description: humans holding up signs spelling out “bail out the planet”]

Extinction Rebellion’s strategy has numerous flaws that I have detailed before in this post. Yet not all of the issues can be solved by a change in strategy; many of these flaws are embedded in the very founding documents of the movement. XR’s Three Demands, alongside their 10 Principles and Values are deserving of scrutiny, both in their context and their execution (or lack thereof).

Let’s look at the Three Demands. Tell the Truth (declare a climate emergency), Act Now (net-zero emissions by 2025) and Beyond Politics (create a climate citizen’s assembly) The latter demand is not to be confused with the briefly-existing political party of the same name started by Roger Hallam, which was named after the demand and has since rebranded as Burning Pink. There are no huge issues with the first, and I would argue that it has – for the most part – already been achieved.

The second is not offensive in its content, but merely somewhat unfeasible in the current political climate. There is nothing wrong with a group which aims to paint itself as radical pushing for something unobtainable, however. Pushing farther than you expect people to move shifts the window, it’s a basic negotiating technique. It can even be argued that despite how soon this target is, it is needed. That’s a debate for another time and place. The third demand, however?

A climate Citizens’ Assembly, chosen by sortition, is an XR demand that has managed to gain a lot of traction and has spread throughout the climate movement since 2018. Some countries have even began holding such Assemblies, such as Scotland (although it is non-binding). Yet, will Citizens’ Assemblies actually change anything? I’d argue no, there is no guarantee that such bodies will end up backing the radical climate action XR wants.

XR has a slogan used in contexts of promoting these Assemblies, “trust the people”. Internal training on facilitating People’s Assemblies is given this as a title. The belief is that a random sortition-chosen group can be trusted to do the right thing when presented with evidence. However, I would argue that this is a very naïve view. There is ample evidence that many of ‘the people’ often hold racist, misogynistic, ableist, homophobic, transphobic or otherwise bigoted views. Trust them? Sure, if you’re a cishet abled white male, maybe then you can trust them. Otherwise, this idea sounds concerning.

Sortition is itself a controversial method of choosing people to sit on a political decision-making body. It is a method best known for choosing juries, but Citizens’ Assemblies have existed before this. XR has come under criticism for wanting to replace democracy with sortition, where only the people randomly chosen have their say. This is a fair criticism in the context of this demand, but it is unlikely many people actually want to end democracy for good. I won’t pretend there aren’t some, though.

XR has three demands, and ten principles and values that people acting in their name are expected to abide by. Most of the principles seem decent at first glance, but deserve deeper scrutiny. Take Principle 2, “we set our mission on what is necessary”. Part of this principle on the XR UK website is “to mobilise 3.5% of the population to achieve system change”. This figure is based on research into non-violent civil disobedience carried out by a number of people, including Srdja Popovic whose work I’m familiar with.

The research, however, studies revolutions targeting the overthrow of dictatorial regimes. Aiming to change how we view climate change, and the actions needed to prevent a catastrophic breakdown is an entirely different scenario. It’s like using polling data from Wales to predict the results of an election in Scotland; no matter how good the research is, and how valid it is within its context, it proves nothing about other contexts.

There is nothing wrong with Principle 5 as stated, “we value reflecting and learning”, but its inclusion shines a light on the hypocrisy of some in the movement. Despite many, many, many reflection sessions which concluded Roger Hallam has caused harm, XR continues to promote his events. Hallam, who is one of the founders of XR, admitted making anti-Semitic statements for ‘shock value’ and in the words of and XR member from the North of England, “immediately divides any room he sets foot into” (quote from a 2020 zoom call).

Principle 6 sounds excellent, “we welcome everyone and every part of everyone”. This means that no matter how many intersecting identities someone has, they should be welcome. However, in practice, there are two issues with this: one, it is rarely carried out in practice, particularly towards disabled people. There is a history of bad blood between the environmental and the disability communities that XR has failed completely to tackle. Second, ‘everyone’ includes bigots. Do you really want to welcome them?

The eighth of the ten principles & values on the list is “we avoid blaming and shaming”. My initial interpretation of this is that XR avoids blaming any individual humans for their actions because it is the system and mega-corporations that are most responsible for climate change. However, there are alternative interpretations that blaming any individual business, or any political party, is against this principle. This makes it rather difficult to push for any kind of change.

Extinction Rebellion did good work in getting the climate firmly on people’s minds and near the top of the agenda. The first demand has easily been the most successful for the movement, which focuses largely on the media attention garnered by mass arrests and roadblocks. But its founding principles contain flaws that stop the movement from growing further or making more progress. If XR wants to continue pushing for climate action, and wants to be effective, they need to revise and re-evaluate these documents.

The Flaws in Extinction Rebellion’s Strategy

[Image Description: purple boat with the words “the future you fear is already here” painted on the side in English and Gaelic, with a sail that reads “Act Now”]

Extinction Rebellion (XR) is an environmental campaign group that first formed in 2018 in the UK and has since spread across the globe. XR has gained much media attention, and has attracted a lot of controversy for both tactics used and comments made by certain founders of the movement. Since the formation of XR, the climate emergency has certainly gained much more attention, but has XR reached the limit of what it can achieve in its current form?

Extinction Rebellion conflates the definitions of “civil disobedience” and “direct action” which are not actually the same thing. Most direct action is also civil disobedience, but not all civil disobedience is direct action. Blocking roads in London is civil disobedience, as it is a form of protest involving law-breaking, but it is not actually direct action as it is not directly targeting what the group wants to change. Blocking the Sun from distribution, on the other hand, is indeed direct action.

The focus on ‘deliberate arrests’ is also a controversial tactic that reveals the privileged position of the founders who developed this strategy. It is far riskier to face arrest if you’re a person of colour, trans, disabled, an immigrant or poor. Deliberately obtaining a criminal record is something only one with an extreme amount of privilege can consider. There is a culture of encouraging arrests, and of viewing those who have been arrested as the ‘main’ part of the movement within XR, which excludes those who cannot or don’t want to do this.

Srdja Popovic’s Blueprint for Revolution, a handbook to non-violent revolution that was one of the inspirations for XR strategy, contains a chapter about the risk of arrest, the importance of reducing people’s fear of arrest and of making arrest seem ‘cool’ to encourage people to risk it. This was written in the context of Popovic’s Otpor! movement in Serbia to take down Slobodan Milošević, where anyone protesting faced the risk of arrest. What XR failed to grasp is the difference between “this may happen so you need to be prepared” to “let’s deliberately make this happen”.

Popovic and others whose writing inspired XR strategy also inspired the 3.5% figure. This is supposedly the percentage of a population that need to be mobilised in order to change a system. This research, once more, is based on the context of overthrowing (primarily Eastern European dictatorships). While the research which arrived at that figure may be perfectly valid in the context of overthrowing dictators, seeking climate action is a very different context, and XR cannot and should not assume radically changing the context won’t alter the figure.

Even if the 3.5% figure works in this context despite its difference from those which the research studied, XR cannot achieve this with their current organisational structure and their actions. For every new person joining XR, people are leaving as a result of badly-considered actions and comments that make the name Extinction Rebellion toxic to some people. Most of the people leaving are from marginalised communities who have felt unsupported and excluded from XR.

An often-quoted statement from XR is that “anyone is empowered to take action in our name, as long as they abide by our principles and values”. The group is, on paper at least, a decentralised organisation made up of small, autonomous groups who are self-organising and who can act of their own initiative. In practice, this sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t, and there have certainly been top-down approaches to the creation of certain groups, such as in the XR US vs. XR America debacle.

There are obvious problems with this method of organisation. The principles and values are words, and words can be interpreted differently by different people. Therefore, immediately there is an issue whereby people could act under an XR banner that is extremely damaging to the cause, harmful to other people or to communities. We saw this in October 2019 with the controversial tube action in London. People are leaving XR because the structure will allow such scenarios to repeat indefinitely.

Extinction Rebellion appeared at a time when climate action was sorely needed, and their media-focused publicity stunts and deliberate arrests certainly drew attention and changed the narrative. But we’re moving to a stage where we need to discuss solutions & work with those in a position to make such changes, rather than gambling the future of the planet on the public perception of media stunts. XR’s strategy had its time, but that time is passed and we need something different now. It’s time they looked at that.

We Must Support Clara Ponsatí from Political Persecution

A European Arrest Warrant was issued on Friday for Clara Ponsati, a Professor at the University of St Andrews. As a student at this institution, I am horrified that one of our professors is being persecuted for her political affiliations.

Professor Ponsati and other Catalan ministers face charges in Spain including rebellion and sedition for their role in holding an independence referendum in Catalonia in October 2017, and subsequently declaring independence. These charges are politically motivated and are an attack on freedom and democracy by the Spanish government.

Clara Ponsati was Education Minister in the Catalan government at the time of the referendum when they declared independence from Spain. Following this, she and five other ministers, including Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, fled Spain for Belgium. Many others who stayed behind were imprisoned.

It is shocking and disheartening that there are political prisoners in an EU country in the present day. If the UK extradites Prof. Ponsati, and Germany extradites President Puigdemont, they will be denying the Catalan people the right to express themselves and determine their own fate. The right to hold a referendum is one we have taken for granted in Scotland – in Catalonia, people are being prosecuted for this same action.

The Catalan government was elected with a mandate to hold a referendum on independence. These democratically elected ministers, acting on this mandate, are now facing up to 30 years imprisonment for acting on their political beliefs while representing the people of Catalonia.

The treatment of supporters of Catalan independence by Spain has been horrific and not what is expected from a democratic country. From police brutality on the streets, to the arrest of members of the democratically elected Catalan government, the treatment of the Catalan people has been completely unacceptable.

The independence of the Spanish judiciary on this matter cannot be assured, and if extradited, Prof. Ponsati and the others face inhumane treatment in violation of their human rights. Due to this, the UK judiciary are within legal grounds to reject the extradition request. I sincerely hope this happens.

It is for these reasons that other students at the University of St Andrews and I are organising a demo in support of Professor Ponsati on Monday 2nd April. If you would like to get involved, please like our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/StASupportClaraPonsati/ to stay updated on ways to support our professor!

This article was originally published on the blog of SNP Students.

Why I Support Striking University Staff

As a student at the University of St Andrews, I am supporting the striking university staff in the dispute over the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). UUK announced plans to change the pension scheme from one where university staff have a guaranteed retirement income to one where pensions are dependent upon the stock market. In the worst case, this could lead to a reduction in pension income of £10,000 a year. In response, the University and College Union (UCU) announced 14 days of strike action.

A deal was offered to end the strikes on the 12th March, which would have resulted in staff contributing much more of their current income towards the pension scheme for no further benefits. UUK claims the scheme has a deficit; however, this is disputed and some universities, mine included, have been claiming that as fact. Regardless of whether there is a deficit or not, cutting pensions is not the way to solve the problem. The UCU rejected the detail, and a second wave of strike action is due to happen in the future.

While the pensions of university staff are under attack, vice chancellors and equivalent continue to be paid large sums of money, much more than is necessary for anyone to live. Meanwhile, these are the people who want to cut the pensions of staff with much smaller salaries. This kind of pay gap is synonymous with capitalism, an economic system which necessitates inequality.

As a final year student, this could not come at a worse time, as by their nature, the strikes are disrupting students’ education. This is not the fault of those striking, it is the fault of employers for proposing this outrageous scheme and failing to present an acceptable deal at negotiations. University staff have a difficult job, one in which the pay is comparably less to other professions requiring the same skill level. Staff deserve to feel security about their retirement, but under this scheme, that security is eliminated.

As students, we should be supporting our lecturers and the other staff whose pensions are at risk. Some current students wish to continue with academia, and hope to work at a university one day, and these proposals may discourage some from doing so. Those who choose academia do so in the knowledge that they are passing up far more lucrative careers. At the moment, however, they have the promise of a decent pension in retirement.

If these proposals were to go ahead, that promise would not exist. There would be no security, no guaranteed income and no guaranteed retirement plan. It is highly likely then, in that case, that many people would be discouraged from entering academia. Other careers requiring similar education tend to have better pay and are often less stressful. As current students deciding on our future careers, this is very important.

At the end of the day, nobody wants to have to strike. They lose pay for the days not working, and university staff do care greatly about students’ education – they chose that career, after all. But in this case, industrial action is necessary. It is disruptive by its nature, designed to show employers how much they need their employees. It shows employers that their proposal is completely unacceptable, that it is over a line that cannot be crossed without action being taken.

I call on other students to join me in taking action to support the strike. If you are unsure how to do so, the UCU has a guide to students supporting the action. UUK needs to understand that cutting pensions is completely unacceptable, and hardworking staff deserve security in their retirement. I hope a deal that does not leave staff worse off, either just now or in the future can be reached.

At Least It’s Not A Negative Number

This will be the last weekly Thursday post. I will be switching to Sundays after this as I won’t have time to write on Thursdays once university starts.

I have a terrible habit of pushing myself beyond my limits. Since I will do far more than I have the energy for and eventually reach autistic burnout every few months. And I can’t stop it – especially since most of me doesn’t want to. There’s nothing I want to give up that I actually can. The list of things I have to do each week, added to the things I want to provides me with so little time left over. As an autistic person, this can cause me so many problems, including anxiety and stress.

Much time is taken up by things I must do as an adult, as is the case in most people’s lives. Things such as sleeping, cooking, eating and cleaning take up so many hours of each day. And while (two of) these things can be pleasant, they take time and often aren’t as efficiently planned as I’d like. In my busier weeks, sleep is often neglected which contributes to my lack of energy by the end of them. I also need to go food shopping at least once a week – something made even more difficult as I don’t have a car and have to carry the heavy bags back walking. These things must be done if I wish to survive, but they also drain so much time from my schedule.

The other big ‘must’ is university work. While theoretically I chose to go to university and am studying something I like, in practice the very addition of the word ‘must’ makes my brain categorise it as a chore – even the bits I should enjoy. As my main activity, university naturally takes up about 40 hours a week – or should. A huge part of my problems with keeping to schedule and not running out of time is procrastination. When I’m supposed to be studying I’ll be watching Netflix or playing games online. These are things I have zero time for but I do anyway because they’re enjoyable. In an ideal world, I’d have time for them, but this world is far from ideal.

Something that is very much optional, but also something I cannot bring myself to give up is committee work. I’m currently on four committees, and by the time I go to bed tonight I expect to be on another. I care deeply about every single one and I don’t want to quit. Some I’m on because they’re fun, some because I think they can help me make a difference. The Doctor Who, Sherlock and Science Fiction & Fantasy societies have all provided me with better friends than I ever thought I’d have and a place to go and have fun around other humans every week. I want to contribute to each of them and be a bigger part.

The fourth is the St Andrews University Students for Independence (STAUSFI) society. The fifth one I might be joining tonight is the the Young Scots for Independence Mid-Scotland and Fife Regional Association. Provided I win the election, of course. Politics is something that is important to me and important in general. By participating in political societies and political party events I hope to try and make a difference, and also show that autistic people can be involved in politics. I’ve tried giving this up before because it can be a source of stress, but it didn’t work for me – it made me feel like I was doing nothing important with my life. So the more politics, the better, as far as how I feel about my role in life is concerned.

After having all this to do, you would be forgiven for assuming I would make no further commitments to actually give myself some time to wind down. But you’d be wrong. I constantly add more things to the list of Things I Should Do every week. This blog is one of them; I’ve committed to posting weekly (I missed last week due to illness, said so on Twitter) which takes about 4 hours of writing, editing and thought time each week. This is why I’ll be switching from Thursday to Sunday after this post – when the summer ends and I go back to classes, I will not have that time available on Thursdays.

Other further commitments include: volunteering in a charity shop for two hours a week, German lessons (though I might be giving those up because of a lack of time, funnily enough) and meeting up with my friends on Friday and/or Saturday evenings. While that last one is not a commitment per se, it is something that I enjoy doing, and something that I do feel I need to participate in if I am to remain a full member of the friendship group, something I’ve found difficult all my life.

By my estimations (and bear in mind they are just that), Sleep + Adulting + University + Non-political Committees + Politics + Blog + Volunteering + (German) + Friendship + Travel = 56 + 23 + 40 + 6 + 5 + 4 + 2 + (3) + 10 + 3 = 150 out of a total of 168 hours a week, giving me spare time of a mere 18 hours a week. Well, at least it’s not a negative number. And there’s the problem. Because that is insufficient time to recover from the amount of socialising I do in the other hours.

While 8 hours of sleep a night is factored into the above equation, the standard adult sleep time is insufficient to counter all the exhaustion I face as an autistic adult in the world – especially since I’m masking for most of those activities, especially the committees. I can find things both enjoyable and exhausting at the same time, they are not mutually exclusive. So while the things that require masking are exhausting, I also don’t want to give them up. 18 hours a week (2.57 hours a day) is not enough downtime to relax and counter the negative effects of the other 93 waking hours.

Also bear in mind that this is a typical week – most weeks are like this. Some are worse. In some weeks I need to do 50 hours of university work; other weeks require 10 hours for politics, maybe more. Holidays are of course much better as the university hours aren’t there. This week is okay only because of no university. This week, politics is estimated to take 7 hours and travel 7. Tonight I’m travelling to Inverkeithing for the YSI event which due to connection times could be about 2 hours each way. If this week was term-time, it would be a problem.

Last week I didn’t post, because I had a cold. Even a little illness can completely stop me doing anything – I’m very sensitive to pain. I can go a whole week only doing Sleep + Partial Adulting if I’m ill. So I try and add all the missed hours to the following week. Which normally results in a spare time output of a large negative number. If illness wasn’t a thing, I could probably survive a whole semester on my tight schedule. But the minute I become ill, the effects carry over for weeks and weeks and weeks until the thin threads of my life start unravelling; I lose friends and fail exams and everything is ruined.

With no margin for error, and a world that is full of potential causes of error, this is a situation that can’t be allowed to continue. But the only thing on my current list that I’m willing to give up is the German lessons (3 hours a week – 2 for class and 1 for homework). So as things stand, I’m going to be pushing myself beyond my limits for the foreseeable future. And hoping beyond hope I don’t get ill or distracted.

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For those who want a more detailed breakdown of how I calculated the standard week:

Sleep: 8 hours x 7 days = 56

Adulting: (2 hours cooking, eating & washing up) x (7 days) + (1 hour showering/brushing teeth/getting dressed) x (7 days) + 2 hours shopping = 23

University: 40 hours as the standard work hours, there’s a more specific calculation I could do but that would take time!

Non-political committees: 2 hours x 3 committees = 6

Politics: 5 is an estimate I remembered from an earlier calculation, I don’t have my breakdown for it with me right now

Blog: 4 hours, I timed myself as I wrote this and then added my estimate for how long editing & posting would take.

Volunteering: 2 hours is what I said I’d do

German: Class is 2 hours and we get homework which takes about 1

Friendship: 10 is an average, can be as little as 5 and as much as 14, usually 5 on Fri and another 5 on Sat. Can be 7 hours each, can be only 5 on one.

Travel: Since I live in a small town, travel time to a single location is always less than an hour, added together travel to all events over the week (about 26 individual journeys, possibly more) only sum to 3 hours usually.

Political Campaigning While Autistic

I developed a reputation in 2014 for being a dedicated and hard working political campaigner. On four separate occasions I heard people tell someone else that I was good at it and ‘enjoyed’ it. I have no idea where they got their information, but the notion of my enjoyment is fundamentally false. As people who have read any of my autism stuff will know, I frequently put on a mask and try to pass as neurotypical. It’s a false personality, created not of lies but merely omissions of fact, a neglect for the truth of who I am.

The mask I wore to canvass completely covered my truth. I was not me on those days, I was a good little activist, campaigning for Yes and later the SNP, saying exactly what I was meant to say. The politics of it was the only truth, after all if I didn’t believe it why would I campaign? But how I said it and when I chose to speak was an act designed to stop people from being put off by my true autistic self.

The first time I went canvassing was in March 2014 in the long run up to the September 2014 Scottish independence referendum. I was in my last few months of secondary school, at a time when I had few friends and an almost nonexistent social life. I would see people posting pictures on Facebook of all the things they’d done at the weekend while I sat alone reading. I had made my decision on how to vote in the referendum back in 2013, and I had become somewhat obsessed with reading about the referendum.

It was doing this that I found out about the Generation Yes campaign launch in Glasgow, seeing it as an opportunity to get involved with the campaign for independence, actually do something with my weekend, and possibly make some friends. And so I attended. Thus began my involvement in the independence campaign.

Over the course of the following few months I would campaign on a Tuesday night in East Kilbride, a town near where I lived, so as to avoid the houses of my school bullies in my own area. Once exams were over and I’d left school, the frequency increased massively. That summer I did two things with my life – volunteered at the Glasgow 2014 commonwealth games and campaigned for independence. Given the short length of the commonwealth games, you can conclude how much time I spent campaigning.

Given my lack of friendship and struggles with finding autism-friendly employment, in my desperation for something worthwhile to do and a way to pass the time I pushed myself to my limits with the campaigning. In such a polarising high-profile campaign, there were naturally a considerable number of people on both sides who felt incredibly strongly about it. Some of these people were prone to harassing campaigners from the other side on the street. I still had issues with confrontation stemming from my childhood experiences, and as such this was incredibly damaging and hurtful to me.

On days when such a confrontation had occurred, be it on the street or on the doorstep, I had to take the following two days to calm down, often shaking and crying and doubting myself and everything I believed in for several hours after I returned home. I entered a rapid cycle of campaigning until burnout then repeat. It was unhealthy, but I didn’t tell anyone because at the time I kept my autism a closely guarded secret.

After the referendum, I joined the SNP and became involved with SNP Students, joining their National Executive Committee in my second year of university. As part of SNP Students I again attended campaign days where we would canvass in the run up to the myriad of elections there has been since then. It was expected of me, and I didn’t want to let down all those who by that point believed I was an avid campaigner.

As the months passed, I gained new friends from university, who were not involved in political campaigning, and many of whom disagreed with my politics. Campaigning was no longer the only social life I had. And with this new comparison of activities, I discovered that I did not enjoy campaigning nearly half as much as I thought I had. The stress of having to make eye contact and small talk with a hundred people in a few hours may have seemed enjoyable compared to the loneliness of the nothing I’d had before, but now it seemed only to be stress.

This revelation showed me that canvassing is something that is inherently harmful to my mental health, increasing stress and anxiety and making burnout worse and more frequent. I began canvassing to distract myself from the emptiness I’d felt in my life for all my secondary school years, but at that point I’d have taken almost anything over being alone. Though physically capable of canvassing, it was harming me mentally.

Since those days, I’ve discovered the autistic community on twitter (I briefly joined some FB groups but there was so much confrontation and discord in them that it made the twitter arguments look like friendly banter) and begun to accept myself for who I am. I have made friends, lost a few, and made more. I actually have a social life that doesn’t involve campaigning or any kind of organised activity. And I know the truth of why I went canvassing – to fill a void.

There is a stigma around refraining from an activity for mental health reasons. Many people seem to believe that if you can do something physically then any mental reasons are excuses for laziness. This is something I’ve seen in political circles. Since I’ve done it before, I must therefore be able to do it now. This is based on the false premise that nothing has changed.

I am exhausted. All that life I said I have now is draining me. Academic struggles, the pressures of socialisation, and all that has happened since 2014 has exhausted me. In school I found academic work easily, and I had nothing else happening. That’s a lot more time for recharging. These days, during term time, I’m busy nearly every minute of every day and there is no time for a break. As such, my ability to cope with stressful situations is lessened.

Canvassing is the most stressful campaigning activity to me because it involves going to people’s doors and disrupting them in their houses. While I, a politics geek, get excited if a political canvasser arrives, others react in the way I do when it is someone selling something – irritation and resentment for the presence of a disturbance. Partly due to my experiences in school, I can’t stand it when people are irritated with me or resentful of my presence. On a street stall, people approach me, which makes it easier as they want to talk (and if they start yelling there will be someone else to argue with them).

To go canvassing now would be dangerous to me – if I was yelled at or personally insulted I doubt I could wait until I got home to burst into tears, and frankly that is not behaviour you want from one of your party campaigners. In my attempts to help, it’s likely that I would end up doing more harm than good if I try and canvass in the state I’m in these days. I can still post leaflets through doors or stand at a street stall, but I don’t want to canvass any more.

The line between ‘can’t’ and ‘don’t want to’ in this is blurred, to me it is both at the same time, but to some others they deny my inability and insist it is solely lack of desire. Right now I would like to make one thing clear: it is perfectly possible that I could go canvassing tomorrow and not burst into tears while I’m out. But if I did so, I would go home that night exhausted, climb into bed and sleep for about 14 hours while shaking in fear and stress. That would not be me being able to do it – that would be me hurting myself.

I need to make one thing abundantly clear – ability changes. What an individual can do today, they may not be able to do tomorrow. What I could do three years ago, I cannot do in 2017. Life interferes and changes things. It can hurt or it can help, but it never allows anything to stay the same.

Things may change again, and in the future I might find myself doing what I did in 2014, to the detriment of my own health for a cause I believe in. But don’t hold out any hope. I am not in control of the factors which affect my disability. As for right now, I’m not going canvassing and if anyone gets annoyed at me, I’ll just send them the link to this.

Principles, Priorities and Politics

In November, I left the Scottish National Party (SNP) over a multitude of small differences in opinion, the sum of which made me want to leave the party. On Monday of this week, I announced I was re-joining the party. Here, I wish to try and explain why I left, and more importantly, why I chose to return.

To understand the reasons behind both decisions, consider the following two views on general political party membership: members of a political party should agree with the majority of policies, and the general ideology of the party; or members should agree with ALL policies. I believe the former of these two options, but those in my primary social group in November subscribed to the latter approach. And thus, felt that my answer of “I don’t agree with that particular policy” was unacceptable regardless of what was being discussed.

This ultimately influenced my decision to leave far more than it should have. The small differences of opinion I had with the party were easily reconciled in my own mind if I’d had no outside influence from anyone.

Another factor which influenced my decision was my role on the SNP Students National Executive Committee (NEC). While I loved my role, I was and still am struggling academically, and it was a much larger time commitment than I could handle at the time. I was spending far more time than I had on SNP Students events and activities, and it was affecting my academic work. I realised this and felt I needed to sort out my priorities, and I tend to do things like quitting wholly or not at all.

So in summary, the main reasons I left were time commitments and small differences in opinion on minor policies. And the reasons I’ve returned?

I never stopped being in favour of Scottish independence, but I feel after article 50 has been triggered that it is increasingly important that we become independent and make our own path rather than following the inward-looking, right-wing path the UK seems set on following. The SNP still are the best chance we have of gaining independence. For now, though, as part of the UK, it is important we have a voice for Scotland in Westminster as Brexit negotiations begin, and with a general election around the corner, now is the time to get involved again.

The six months I was gone have given me time to reevaluate where the priorities lie in my opinions, as there are a few contradictions in there. In doing so, I’ve realised that those small differences I spoke of are far down my list of priorities, whereas on the major issues that are very important to me*, I do agree with SNP policy.

Being a member of a party, and still disagreeing on one or two things does not conflict with my own principles, even if it would to the principles of my friends. And it is time I stopped allowing myself to be influenced by peer pressure on political issues (or indeed, anything else).

These six months have given me a welcome break in which I have had time to sit down and fully consider what I truly believe, and where my priorities and principles lie. And so, I am now excited to be returning to political activism with greater enthusiasm and understanding of my beliefs than I did before.

Bring on the general election campaign!

 

*Excluding things that receive so little attention, no major party has many policies on them, or any policies that would actually do anything.