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Fighting Burnout: An Activist's Lament

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Everyone has their own telltale signs of extreme stress and fatigue. Mine are dropping things, tripping over my own feet, and a black cloud of crabbiness that follows me around wherever I go. At these times, I'm a real pleasure to be around. Just ask my family.

My last experience with over-the-top fatigue came 26 years ago when I unexpectedly gave birth to twins, six-and-a-half weeks early. Besides for the fact that we weren't even remotely "ready," what was supposed to be a bruiser of a baby morphed into two, very tiny preemies. We love to recount my mother's uncensored reaction upon seeing them for the first time. "I roast chickens bigger than that!" she exclaimed. I was too inexperienced to realize that this was a cause for concern. Over the next six months, I would catnap for no more than an hour at a time to accommodate the girls' uncoordinated nursing schedules. Every time my head hit the pillow, there would inevitably be a cry from the next room. The good news was that they were thriving. I, on the other hand, was a complete mess.

While I'm not exactly equating my activism with the travails of unexpected twins, there is a certain resemblance. Getting so tired that I can't put sentences together, feeling overwhelmed, having so much to do without the confidence that it's even physically possible to do it all. Actually, the more I think about it, it really is very similar.

I find the work I do to be very insidious, and one thing inevitably leads to another. It all started when I watched a documentary at a group screening last summer. I'm a sucker for movies, even if there isn't any popcorn. That movie was Invisible Ballots, which I found to be incredibly compelling. Instantly, the wheels in my mind began turning and I came up with the idea of starting a lending library project. This reaction was unusual for me. I had neither a history of activism nor much of a desire for it. I certainly had no idea that it would take off the way it has. As recently as several months ago, I had distributed less than 500 DVDs. Now, my goal of 2,000 before the project's first anniversary is well within reach - just 42 more to go! In May, I got the producer's permission to replicate Invisible Ballots. In less than three weeks, I successfully raised the funds, chose the artwork, wrote the copy and replicated thousands of copies of the DVD, many of which accompanied me to DC for the Take Back America 2006 convention.

My lending library project led me to Rob Kall, who offered me the opportunity to be Voting Integrity Editor for OpEdNews, a job I turned down the first time he suggested it. I was busy with my project, work, and my family, and didn't see how I could possibly juggle another major commitment. I had zero editing skills and my understanding of my new best friend, the computer, was laughable. But Rob promised that if it didn't work out, there would be no hard feelings, so I decided to give it a shot

It's been eight months since I started and I've posted over 2,200 articles, the vast majority of them on voting issues. I've written several book reviews, among them one of the few out there on Steven Freeman and Joel Bleifuss's sensational new book, Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud and the Official Count.
http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_joan_bru_060727_our_worst_fears_conf.htm I've also written Invisible Ballots project updates, and op-ed pieces. I'm learning as I go, and for the most part, it is extremely gratifying. Since I am neither a computer whiz nor an election expert, I really see my function as more of a matchmaker, bringing together people and ideas. I have built up a terrific network of activists and writers whose work I've highlighted at OpEdNews. I see my corner of our website as a forum for voting issues, giving coverage where the mainstream press has totally fallen down on the job. The fact that articles at OpEdNews are spidered by Google maximizes their impact and helps speed them along to other, more distant readers. That is pretty potent stuff.

What have I given up in order to do this? I still manage to get my reading in (although I start a lot later at night), occasional movies, Scrabble games, and family time. When my daughter who lives abroad was in town this summer, we pulled off a rare week-long family vacation and two other weekend trips. Gardening has shot the tubes, as my neighbors would be the first to tell you. But, that was also a function of the fact that the day I had set aside for planting devolved into a long conversation with my teenager about his summer plans. I felt that helping my son figure out his direction was more important than aligning the impatiens.

I do less cooking and entertaining since I'm just too tired and don't have much time to spend in the kitchen. Luckily, my husband positively loves leftovers and scrounging around in the fridge to create interesting combinations. I can't tell you how much I appreciate emerging from my basement hideaway in order to grab an avocado milkshake (or something equally delicious) that Rafi has whipped up, and then going back to work. That's my idea of heaven - no muss, no fuss.

My son gets short-changed sometimes. This week, we made a date to go shopping for school supplies. We settled on a time and I went back to the computer. That time came and went, a fact of which I was only dimly aware. When I finally emerged quite a bit later, it turns out that he was waiting for me to come up and get him. I explained to him that I need to be forcibly evicted from my seat in order to turn my attention to something else. And I enlisted his help in this war against the compulsive part of me that gets so engrossed that I forget about prior commitments, eating, or even taking bathroom breaks. It's sad, but it's true.

I wish this were not such a solitary pursuit. I have intense relationships with people I rarely, if ever, see. I only met Rob for the first time at the DC conference in June, a full six months after he hired me to work for him. He's been a fabulous boss, great to work with, and constantly cheering me on.

I have lots of ideas but not enough time to implement them. I do have a friend who stops by periodically and helps me dig out from under the mess that calls itself a desk. But I could use a researcher, and I could definitely use a fund-raiser. Although people stepped forward to finance the mega purchase of the DVDs in May, I still have substantial office and postage costs to send out the many hundreds of DVDs that are in constant circulation. I want to go to the We Count 2006 Conference of voting activists (a stellar line-up including Mark Crispin Miller, Bev Harris, Bob Fitrakis, Steven Freeman, among others) http://www.wecount2006.org/ in Cleveland next month and would love contributions towards hotel and transportation expenses. I don't even have the time to ask for it. Okay, I'm asking now. It's tax deductible and you can donate online via PayPal or credit card:

I have two copies of Rep. Conyers' Report, Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong In Ohio, which are awaiting donation to local libraries. I took care of the other copies but simply don't have the time to follow up on these. Anyone who contacts their public library and finds out that they don't have this book but are willing to accept a new copy should contact me. I will send them the book and we can get two more out there for our fellow citizens to read.

I have a number of activists who are willing to be interviewed by me. That's terrific, but I don't have the time to transcribe anything that they might tell me. A number of months ago, Brad "BradBlog" Friedman (forewarned about my lack of interviewing skills) spent well over an hour on the phone with me giving me tons of material for an interview. I haven't had the time to do anything with the material, and the truth of the matter is that I can't even find it now in my computer. What can I tell you? Computers and I simply don't speak the same language. I'm aiming for peaceful coexistence, if that's not too much to ask.

Which brings me back to the burnout that constantly threatens me, especially right now. My body is falling apart, which is a sure sign of stress. My chiropractor/acupuncturist has told me repeatedly that I need to chill, and that I'm giving myself arthritis in both hands from excessive computer use. He wants me to take breaks and soak my hands in cold water. Riiiiiiight! My chronic Achilles heel injury is particularly inflamed right now so I'm banned from swimming and walking. I'm supposed to stop standing up altogether. Tell that to a mom and watch her roll her eyes. Sure thing, Doc! I've taken up yoga again in a search for inner peace, and to fill the time when I would be out swimming and producing those much-needed endorphins.

I've read Paul Rogat Loeb's The Impossible Will Take A Little While, that fabulous collection of essays by activists across time and space. I "get" that it's a marathon and not a sprint. Maybe it's my personality. Or maybe it's that voting integrity is so crucial to every other thing that goes on in our lives from the moment we wake up until we hit the hay at night, both here, and everywhere else across the globe. In June, San Diego poll workers took home Diebold machines up to 12 days before the primary, despite the fact that California's own task force, commissioned by the Secretary of State, spoke in depth about the vulnerabilities of those very Diebold machines and the need for great care and security. The fact that we have absolutely no reason to feel secure that the election results are accurate is a foreshadowing of upcoming elections and the chaos to come. I don't feel particularly prescient. But I do feel frantic to alert the public before it's too late. For months, I would wake up in the morning with a sore throat after dreaming about screaming with no one listening. I am still ever conscious of that ticking clock, the sand running through the hourglass, representing our last hope to save and restore the democracy that is presently more and more becoming just a figment of our collective imagination.

I don't expect all of you to drop everything and jump in like I did. I didn't even expect to do this myself. And, truth be told, if I'd known what was involved, I might not have been so eager. But, there's a fight to be fought and it can't be done by activists alone. This is going to be a biggie, and it's going to take every one of us to join in and demand our democracy back. That starts by educating ourselves as to what is really going on. You won't hear about it on the evening news or read it in the newspaper. You'll have to dig a bit, but it's out there. The fact that the press has gone completely AWOL on this issue is another sad story, and part of the problem.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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