Thursday, February 2, 2017

a thousand different ways

i'm fond of saying, "there are a thousand different ways to raise a healthy, safe child" in the child protection classes i teach. (we have this discussion in the context of balancing legal and governmental intervention with the cultural values, personal rights, temperament and level of capacity of the parents we serve.)

in the past few months, i find myself muttering a different version to myself as i scroll through my social media: "there are a thousand different ways to be a social justice activist."

there are members of the human race for whom social justice activism is not a choice. it is required for their survival, to save the lives of their children. for the rest of us, who are at any level of awakening that is short of forced awakening due to discrimination and fear of death, we must remember that our activism is the privilege of our lifetimes. (i saw a perfect protest poster that read, 'if you have been scared since 2016, that is a privilege'.)

and we show up to activism differently.

i worry when i see posts either explicitly preaching to or softly shaming others for the type and level of engagement they can do. or for taking a break from the action, to soak up some lightness for a moment. i worry when activism carries a hint of trendiness. stating opinions is encouraged, but silencing those who are feeling their way through this newness is not okay. i worry that i have unintentionally done these things myself. these things threaten the sustainability of the movement.

so many of us are learning to use voice and power, even if we have had the privilege of it our entire lives.

we are learning to move from the outdated and harmful notions of charity and the savior/hero complex.

we are learning to listen to voices different from our own. really listen. with mouths shut and hearts open, in a state of full-on humility.

this is the process of consciousness raising, a recognized stage of activism.

we need to listen for and guard against divisiveness in the cause; divisiveness can halt the process of consciousness raising.

today, some are stunned into silence. we must remember that this may be due to a trauma being triggered. shame and judgement merely entrench the trauma.

other voices have hints of paranoia and/or feel really angry. this may also be trauma triggered.

some are naturally quiet and lend support to those who aren't.

some move fast and hit hard, their words carry immediate power and cut through the fog of overwhelm.

some have the ability to engage in calm, intelligent conversation with the opposition.

some have to cull their facebook friends (and maybe even their real-life friends) to feel safe and able to focus on the work ahead.

some feel overwhelmed by the abundance of BIG THINGS TO DO, so instead they collect needed items for homeless folks in their neighborhood.

some curate and screen credible news and literature to share with the rest of us.

some people are idea people. others are action people.

some teach fifth graders tolerance and mindfulness, ways to self-regulate all the hard emotions.

some make art and write poetry to raise the consciousness of others.

some wear a safety pin because they want to let others know they will not harm them.

some quietly take care of those returning from the front lines of action.

some have day-upon-day when every waking hour is consumed with working two jobs or tending to sexual assault victims, child abuse victims, an immigrant family, or the wounds in their own homes, their own marriages, their own children.

there are a thousand different ways.

all of these things are needed, necessary. thank you for showing up.

some people experience some or all of these things within their own lives, depending on the day. i get this. some days i have superhuman energy and motivation to fix this shit. some days i am overwhelmed by the hatred and lack of thinking and i want to do yoga and eat soup and maybe read a little. some days my words are smart and quick and powerful, flaming arrows landing in just the right spots to burn through hatred or ignite change. some days i am afraid to say anything, to push post or publish, not because of the opposition, but because i worry i will be publicly mocked by the white mean girls at the popular activism table in the high school cafeteria for not wearing the right jeans. some days they silence me. other days they make me want to scream, "you are not the fucking queen of activism."

some days i have to sit with my feelings of anger, and it is really uncomfortable.

some days i have to sit with my feelings of vulnerability and fear, and it is really uncomfortable.

some days i worry i offended someone i did not intend to offend, and it is really uncomfortable.

wherever we are on the spectrum of activism, we can ask ourselves each day:

was my contribution genuine and effective?

did i check in with my privilege, my voice, the words i am using?

how can i leverage my privilege for the cause?

am i ready to take the next step into more/different action?

how can i cultivate more courage to openly listen/speak up/walk out?

what are some other strategies i can learn about and try?

how can i do better tomorrow?

this shit is messy. we keep moving boldly/quietly/softly forward.