This morning I woke to the news that Benjamin Netanyahu has won Israel’s general election. My heart sank, because, with such a military hawk in power, prospects for peace in Israel-Palestine look further away then ever. It is easy when faced with such news to fall into despair. To believe the vision of a just society for both Palestinians and Israeli citizens is impossible. Sometimes, it is feels easier to admit defeat.
When I’m feeling in this frame of mind, I’m always grateful for my generally optimistic nature and the fact I have family and friends who help me stay positive. In addition, I have the added blessing that I can run. No matter how bad I feel about life, the act of running always helps. Fresh air, physical activity and pleasant scenery always restores my equanimity, helps me process my thoughts and leaves me feeling positive and energetic on my return.
I’m currently in training for the London Marathon again, and I’m realising also, that long-distance running has a lot in common with long-term activism. Whenever I start on a training plan, I am eager and optimistic. I have a clear vision in mind, a target time, and I’m certain this time I will beat it. Much like many a campaign I’ve joined when everyone is abuzz with outrage at the injustice to be addressed and united in a common cause.
Roll on a few weeks, and I’m beginning to droop. I feel tired, I’m fed up with having to do yet another long run and I’m battling injury. It seems then as if the task is impossible and I’ll never make it through the training. This frequently happens in campaigning too. People fall out over differences in strategy, the government passes some law that makes the situation worse, the initial excitement fades away and the chances of success seem remote.
My running experience has taught me that these moments of doubt pass. With the help of physiotherapy when I can afford it, and a foam roller (for self-massage) when I can’t, I have always found a way through the pain to get me to the start line. And though I rarely achieve the time I hope for, I have, to date, always managed to get to the end of the race in one piece, which is a cause for celebration.
And so it is with activism. This week I was reminded of another important independence struggle as it was the anniversary of the Indian Salt March in 1930. Though the protest is remembered now as a successful and inspiring act of nonviolence, it appeared to achieve little at the time. Activists were brutally beaten, thousands were jailed and no concessions were granted. We can only imagine the despair they must have felt afterwards. How many must have felt the cause was lost then? But they didn’t let their defeat deter them. It may have taken another 17 years, but, in the event, India found its freedom. We can learn a lot from that determined, persistent resistance.
When I feel downhearted about the state of the world (which is sadly more often these days than I would like), a picture of one of my running heroes springs to mind. It is Paula Radcliffe sitting on the side of the road, head down and in obvious distress, having just crashed out of the marathon race at the Athens Olympics in 2004. It was a very public moment of devastating failure that garnered her much criticism and caused her to question herself and her abilities. Yet within a year, she had bounced back to win the New York and London Marathons, and take gold at the world championships.
Which is a useful reminder to me that, sometimes, things go very wrong before they go right. And that’s something to hold on to on a day when the politics of fear appears to have won.