10 Reads for Human Rights Activists

Feeling drained and uninspired? Here’s a round up of 10 books by activists and academics about prioritizing resilience, happiness, healing, and creativity in human rights activism.

While New Tactics provides activists with an abundance of tactical resources and inspiration, we also know that activists’ rest and wellness are crucial to their longevity in the field. In fact, a crucial component of the New Tactics methodology is that activists must take care of their most valuable resource – themselves.

At times when we feel drained or uninspired, sometimes the best thing we can do is take some time for ourselves – time to rest and reinvigorate our passion for this work. Cozying up with an inspiring book is a great way to reflect on your advocacy efforts and reenergize your passion for a cause. 

Our team has rounded up 10 new and classic reads about prioritizing resilience, happiness, healing, and creativity in human rights work. Many of these came recommended in our recent #HumanRightsChat on Balancing Human Rights Activism and Self Care. In these books, you’ll hear from grassroots activists, academics, and creatives on their best resources for staying the course for the long haul.

Let us know which one you’ll be reading first! 

  1. Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto (2022) by Tricia Hersey, founder of The Nap Ministry

This is a manifesto for burnt out activists looking to liberate themselves from grind culture. Tricia Hersey, also known as “The Nap Bishop,” pushes back against the oppressive forces of capitalism and white supremacy by connecting us to the power of rest. She encourages readers to stop feeding into the engine of productivity and instead tap into the power of our daydreams as a form of healing. Informed by Hersey’s deep experience in theology, activism, and performance art, this powerful read will remind you that your worth lies simply in your existence and not in ability to “do more” for dehumanizing systems. 

  1. Pause, Rest, Be: Stillness Practices for Courage in Times of Change (2022) by Octavia Raheem

This powerful guide to rest and reflection will help you restore your body, mind, and spirit. Pause, Rest, Be frames purposeful restoration as an act of courage, empowerment, and hope. If you’re feeling disconnected, fatigued, and uncertain, this book offers motivation to re-fortify your energy and efforts for what lies ahead. Octavia Raheem draws wisdom from her many years of teaching restorative yoga to provide presence, stillness, and deep connection throughout times of transition in life.

  1. The Vulnerable Humanitarian: Ending Burnout Culture in the Aid Sector (2022) by Gemma Houldey

This book challenges the culture of stress and burnout that is prevalent yet rarely acknowledged in this field. The Vulnerable Humanitarian illustrates the unrealistic expectations of workers in the humanitarian aid sector. Drawing on interviews with aid workers, Gemma Houldey lays out ways in which organizations are failing them and how aid organizations can challenge oppressive systems and build a better culture of support.

  1. The Art of Activism: Your All Purpose Guide for Making the Impossible Possible (2021) by Steven Duncombe and Steve Lambert, founders of the Center for Artistic Activism

Written by the co-founders of the Center for Artistic Activism, this guide offers case studies and creative exercises that combine the power of art and activism. The authors lead readers in an exploration of how to apply lessons from the worlds of pop-culture, marketing, cognitive science, and more to their advocacy efforts. Even better, the accompanying workbook offers 50 creative exercises to flex your imagination and hone your tactical actions to forge the most impactful Artivism you can.  

  1. Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good (2019) by adrienne maree brown 

This collection of essays explores social justice issues from race and gender to climate change – approaching the political complexities of these topics through the lens of opportunity to maximize our joy while reducing our trauma. In this New York Times Best Seller, adrienne maree brown draws on black feminist tradition to explore a politics of healing and happiness that can make human rights work feel good. Pleasure Activism interweaves essays from a range of feminist thinkers, including Audre Lorde, with adrienne maree brown’s own writing. 


  1. Even The Finest of Warriors (2019) by Yara Sallam

This is both a research project and a book about feminist activists’ experiences of exhaustion and burnout. Even the Finest of Warriors elaborates on the ways in which our activism and personal wellness are inextricably linked, and how issues of mental health in the field of human rights work have been long ignored because they are seen as ‘personal issues.’ Inspired by What's the Point of Revolution if We Can't Dance (see #10), Yara Sallam writes about the mental and physical effects of human rights work and how our private lives inevitably intersect with our work in the public space. You can find the full text of this book available here (also available in Arabic here).

  1. Healing Justice: Holistic Self Care for Change Makers (2018) by Loretta Pyles

This book frames healing justice in the context of current social movements and case studies. Healing Justice positions self-care at the center of human rights work. Loretta Pyles draws on her experience in yoga and mindfulness to offer a holistic approach to prolonging our advocacy. She offers a variety of practical and contemplative self care practices that readers can implement to prioritize themselves, including their own mind-heart-body connection, connection to community, and connection to the natural world.

  1. Sustaining Spirit: Self Care for Social Justice (2018) by Naomi Ortiz

This book is for advocates who are on the path to burnout, but looking for sustainable strategies to break the stress cycle and invite balance into their lives. A poet, Naomi Ortiz  beautifully accompanies readers through their own journey to self care. They provide learnings from interviews with over 30 social justice activists, their own experience as a disabled mestizx activist, and wisdom drawn from their deep connection to the Sonoran Desert. Sustaining Spirit reminds readers how to stay rooted within the “storms” swirling around us.

  1. My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Mending of Our Bodies and Hearts (2017) by Resmaa Menakem

This book is a call to action to recognize that trauma – and specifically racialized trauma – affects not only the mind, but also lives in the body. Resmaa Menakem weaves together the legacy of racism and white supremacy in America with intergenerational trauma, police brutality, body-centered psychology, and a vision of how we can heal individually and collectively. He stresses the importance of healing in order to maintain a life of activism and offers a series of body grounding and settling practices for readers to self-regulate and prioritize their own resilience and healing.

  1. What’s the Point of Revolution if We Can’t Dance? (2007) by Jane Barry and Jelena Dordevic

This book encourages the fatigued activist to stay strong and nurture their love and passion for the work, while caring for their personal safety and wellness. Jane Berry and Jelena Dordevic  write about the everyday feelings shared between more than 100 human rights activists. From the push for selflessness to the use of humor in the field, they highlight the experiences of HRDs who are challenging  a culture of “disregarding the self”. This book’s “Call to Revolution” for sustained movements undoubtedly impacted many of the works above. You can access the entire book online here.