Home » Activism Needs Introverts: Sarah Corbett at TEDxYouth@Bath (Transcript)

Activism Needs Introverts: Sarah Corbett at TEDxYouth@Bath (Transcript)

Sarah Corbett – TRANSCRIPT

I’m going to share a secret with you that I hope I don’t regret. And I haven’t shared it with nearly everyone I know.

And that is that over the last probably 10 years, I have been hiding in toilets quite a lot. It’s nothing dodgy. There’s a few reasons I do it, and it tends to be at events. And it might be events that I go to, which are quite loud, and if it’s very loud and there’s a lot of stimulus, then I get a little bit overwhelmed, and I go and sit in the toilet for a bit of quiet time and to recharge my batteries. Or it might be an event like this where you talk to lots of people, and I love talking to people, but talking to loads of people for a long time really drains me of energy.

So I’ll go and have a little rest in the toilet so no one can see and don’t get upset that I’m not talking to people or think that I’m an emo or I’m a bit sad or I’m just being rude. Or I do it at events where I don’t know lots of people, which happens a lot, because I travel a lot with work, and I’ll come out into a room where I see lots of people talking in groups, and I immediately look around, freeze, and get too scared to join a group and start talking, so I go and hide in the toilet.

And few years ago, about seven years ago, I found myself hiding in a festival toilet, a music festival toilet, and if anyone’s been to a music festival, yeah, you’ll know that by the third day, it’s pretty nasty. I was standing in the toilet because I couldn’t even sit down, because the toilet roll had run out, there was mud everywhere, and it smelled pretty bad. And I stood there thinking, “What am I doing? I don’t even need the toilet.”

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But the reason I went was because I was volunteering for a large charity on climate justice, and it was seven years ago, when lots of people didn’t believe in climate change, people were very cynical about activism, and my role, with all of my teammates, was to get people to sign petitions on climate justice and educate them a bit more about the issue.

And I cared deeply about climate change and lots of inequality, so I’d go and I’d talk to lots of people, which made me nervous and drained me of energy, but I did it because I cared, but I would hide in the toilets, because I’d be exhausted. And I didn’t want my teammates doubting my commitment to the cause, thinking that I was slacking.

And we’d go and meet at the end of our shift, and we’d count how many petitions had been signed, and often I’d win the amount of petitions signed even though I had my little breaks in the toilet. But I was always very jealous of the other activists, because either they had the same amount of energy as they had when they began the shift of getting people to sign petitions, or often they had more energy, and they’d be really excited about going to watch the bands in the evening and having a dance.

And even if I loved the bands, all I wanted to do was to go back to my tent and have a sleep because I’d just feel completely wiped out, and I was really jealous of people who had the energy to go and party hard at the festivals. But it also made me really angry as well inside I thought, “This isn’t fair, I’m an introvert, and all of the offline campaigning seems to be favoring extroverts.” I would go on marches which drained me; that was the other option. Or I’d go and join campaigns outside embassies or shops.

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The only thing that was on offer was around lots of people, it was very loud activism, it always involved lots of people, it was performing. None of it was for introverts. And I not only thought that that wasn’t fair, because a third to a half of the world’s population are introverts, which isn’t fair on them, because we burn out, or we’d be put off by activism and not do it, and everyone needs to be an activist in this world. And also, I didn’t think it was particularly clever, I didn’t think it was very strategic to only offer extrovert forms of activism. You can see this little child in the corner with a mullet.

That’s me, age three. This is from my local newspaper in the 80s. I grew up in Everton in Liverpool, which is a very low income area. And in this campaign, we were squatting to save local social housing that was really important for the area. And we won the campaign.

And you can see that little child I’m just looking I’m just watching. I’ve always been quite shy. I’ve always been quite quiet. But I’ve enjoyed and loved just looking, people-watching, and seeing what’s happening. And because I grew up in an activist family – my dad’s the local vicar, and my mom is now a local politician – we got involved in loads of local issues because there were lots of issues that we needed to campaign on and still is now. But we’d also campaign on global issues like South Africa apartheid and lots of things. But I could see that a lot of the activism that worked wasn’t only extrovert activism. It wasn’t only the loud stuff, it wasn’t about people performing all the time.

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