My students have to work with traumatized clients, and I have seen it take a physical and mental toll on them, so we now spend time talking about resilience. Since we need to not just stay strong, but somehow get stronger, I thought I’d share one of the resilience concepts that has helped me and a bunch of my students, which is to think about how the roots of a tree keep it strong and steady, even in the face of heavy winds. When the roots are weak or shallow, the tree topples. So identify what your roots are–what keeps you strong–and nourish them. For me, it’s family, my neighborhood, close friends, the Sligo Creek trail, and music. Ok, and Phoebe. When I don’t pay attention to those things, I don’t do as well. I hope you all will pay attention to your own roots, and keep them strong.
Something concrete you can do now: Go find one of your badass friends who has been fighting hard in the environmental, racial justice, education, criminal justice, immigration, or other hard long fight for years–including throughout the “friendly” but still extremely challenging Obama Administration–and do something nice for them. Flowers. A handwritten note. A baked good. A word of appreciation. I’ve had enough conversations in real life with people who’ve been giving and giving of themselves over the years, who have a multitude of good and bad/complicated feelings about the waves of new energy. Social justice work is rewarding, but not in any immediate way, and it can be exhausting and frustrating and time-consuming. Now’s a nice time to be nice to the people whose work you’ve always admired.
Written January 22:
You know what I hope? I hope that yesterday’s marches, whether you were there in person or in spirit, keep us brave and strong for all the fights ahead. There are times you can feel SO alone, or at least very marginalized, when you’re fighting for what’s right. But what yesterday showed, over and over and over, is we are not alone in this. Some are louder than others, some are more visible than others, but we are all there. And maybe the quieter, less visible ones among us get a little louder, a little more out there…and the loud ones among us learn to share our space and bring people in. Based on what we all saw yesterday–yes, we can.
The advocate in me who deplores the recent refugee and Muslim travel bans is ecstatic about the Washington State federal judge’s order enjoining the orders nationally. But there is irony in it, too…the authority for extending the injunction nationally comes from the same logic that stayed President Obama’s effort to provide immigration relief for many undocumented parents of citizens and green card holders in 2014. One Texas district court judge was able to stop an estimated 5 million people from experiencing immigration relief under the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program.
So, some of you have delusions that I’m a tireless saver-of-the-world. This is greatly exaggerated. I am an eater of chocolate, reader of novels, and drinker of wine who has a great day job that is useful. But I do know some folks I’d put in that category (not gonna tag them but I hope they know who they are). And every single one lately is saying the same thing vis-a-vis the new energy and attention to social injustices in the U.S. It is striking, across many different areas of activism, the same conversations. So I want to try to articulate what I have heard on their behalves. (My thoughts are in parens.)
1. They are exhausted. It’s been hard enough fighting for justice under President Obama. (True. See: locking up Central American babies.)
2. They feel a bit ungrateful, but the new surge of energy means so many people asking more of their time.
3. They worry that once someone finds out social justice work involves a delusional amount of banging your head on brick walls, interrupted by banging your head on brick walls with sharp things protruding from the walls, the person will tire of justice work. (Don’t get tired: realize you earn a bad-ass badge with every wall you hit.)
4. They worry that a lawyer taking on pro bono cases will discover not all their clients are immediately grateful or return calls, and tire of pro bono work. (Don’t get tired. Sometimes your biggest pain in the ass clients surprise you and teach you things you weren’t expecting. Of course, sometimes they don’t, and then you just get to complain. I am here for you when this happens.)
5. They hope people will realize no single person can do everything. So many interlocking systems grind the most vulnerable down, and if you fight them all, you’re not good at fighting any one of them. They hope people don’t get disillusioned by the thought of that. (My cure for this: Mary Oliver’s “Song of the Builders”)
6. They hope people pick one issue they care so much about, and then get educated about it. About the issue, but also about the fight. Who has been writing on this, who has been organizing, who has a good network already in place.
7. Once that happens, they hope folks find a way to be of service to those good efforts instead of creating new ones. And remember that service can absolutely include donating and then reading the action alerts that worthy organization sends along to you. (Note to self: stop deleting action alerts when I get them.) ETA the ways you serve people can be local and small, and can be things you love to do from writing to art to…anything. (Thanks, Judy Blackburn and Michelle Yu…and fb isn’t letting me tag you, but thanks!)
There is so much need, and now so much energy, and if we can just get focus ourselves, be kind to ourselves, be humble and patient, we’re going to BRING IT in 2017 and beyond.
Please don’t get distracted by the wall. It’s going to be an attractive symbol for the immigration fight on both sides, but the FAR more important fight is over (largely unseen) civil rights violations within the country, the massive expansion of private detention facilities (look at CCA’s stock), and the fast-tracking of removal for an incredibly broad swath of migrants who won’t get a chance to go before a judge. Those fights are less visible and matter so much more. You can’t go wrong with supporting anything from ACLU nationally or a local immigration legal services provider (whose funding is likely to get slashed when Trump eliminates the Legal Services Corporation).
New York Times gets it right.
“Let us be those creative dissenters who will call our beloved nation to a higher destiny. To a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humanness.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
So much work left to do, as Khalil Gibran Muhammad writes so well.