When I was little, I planned on being a fashion designer. I designed clothes, imagined my runway collections, and plotted how I would ethically run my business. I sewed. I read books on design. I thought about other careers, but mostly I wanted to create.
You’ll notice, if you look at my facebook profile, that I am not in a creative field. I am a facilities administrator. I won’t bore you with those vagaries, though. If you pay attention to how I spend my free time, you’ll notice it is mostly activism-based. I volunteer.
Right now I am planning two fundraisers for my all-time favorite nonprofit, Puentes. I’ve joined the Democratic Party and attend monthly meetings in my legislative district. I am an acting PCO (precinct committee officer). I have joined European Dissent, Neighborhood Action Coalition, and Indivisible since November, all of which have regular meetings and calls to action. I’m learning protest songs. I’m teaching Somali refugees how to sew.
None of these things are things I was doing before November. None of these things are things I imagined for myself as a child. I still have all my usual commitments involving work, church, a boyfriend, friends, and doctor’s appointments. Before you ask, yes, I am tired.
I’m sitting at my computer, and I need to make a plan about the fundraiser in May (which I hope you can come to). But my brain keeps wandering. See, I love to plan parties. And fundraisers are sort of like parties. Ideas start streaming when I’m in my creative zone. Am I thinking about the best way to get people excited for my event? Am I planning speakers or food or centerpieces? Nope. Tonight, all I want to do is plan ways to get the attractive, single men in my life to meet my best friend and flirt with her (because she’s wonderful), tell her she writes the best poetry (because she does), and make out with her on a back porch at a party where everyone is wearing their best clothes or no clothes at all (I’ve heard they have parties like that in New York). It’s frivolous, unnecessary, and it’s all I want to plan. Not a fundraiser. Not 2 fundraisers. Instead of a fundraiser for undocumented immigrants, what if I could hold a celebration?
It’s not so different for other activists. Most of the activists I know are women of color. I saw a post from one the other day saying that once she doesn’t have to fight for basic human rights any more, she plans to get caught up on mediocre romantic comedies. Another activist friend says to me sometimes how she’d like to own a fabric store. She takes me to Seattle gems and picks out fabric for pillows she doesn’t have time to make. Instead of creating, though, we are all doing the work. We show up and do the work. We’re there because we have enough time, resources, or skills to contribute and because our consciences dictate it. To be honest, I feel like I sacrifice relatively little. After all, I have the mental energy to luxuriate in the possibility of setting my friend up with men she is far superior to in wit and beauty and hope they can keep up for long enough to be a break in the cycle of singleness she both loves and hates. I can step away from this work at any time and have a relatively safe, happy, successful life. That is not true of all the activists I’ve met. Some are inextricably members of demographics targeted by policies that disproportionately disrupt and damage their lives. They cannot step away, or simply stop following someone on facebook because they disagree. It is important to understand that injustice isn’t invented by the victims or by the activists; It is created by broken systems and the people who perpetuate those systems.
In recent weeks I have been varying degrees of outraged when I read about yet another republican who is not holding a town hall because of the volume of adverse phone calls and emails they have received. Often, these elected representatives cite the anticipated presence of paid activists as their reason for not doing their job, which includes being accessible to constituents. I truly wish that I could pay all the activists for the work they do, but most of us are underpaid or unpaid completely. We are not doing this because it pays well. The very notion flies in the face of every piece of traditional wisdom which says that if you want to make a lot of money you should get a degree in finance, business, medicine, or law. What degree do you get to be an activist?
We would rather be doing something besides fighting for basic human rights. We would rather that everyone’s rights were recognized and protected. We would rather there was no need for our activism.
There is, though. There is an urgent need. So expect more marches, more phone calls, more office visits. We won’t stop until you protect human rights or we find someone who will.
In more immediate terms, I think the solution to my problem is not to set my friend up with handsome, single men, but to ask her to read poetry at my fundraiser.