Saturday, July 12, 2008

Week 5 Viviana (new and improved)

I checked out last night. In an instant, everything was out of focus.

I bought a ring engraved with the Celtic symbol for healing.
I watched as a mother cried over her imprisoned migrant son.

We live in an open wound. We are all hurt.

During my time in Tucson, I have learned, first hand, the emotional stress that doing this sort of work can have on people and organizations. It can be self-destructive if one doesn't stop, step-back, and breathe. Acknowledge that you need to leave. "When the ground beneath you starts a shakin'..." Escape. Sit outside and listen to the rain. Read poetry. Believe that hope can be found in emptiness. Let the raindrops splash against your toes. And breathe. Notice the birds. Be in the moment with your body, conscience of the way the breeze feels against your face. Breathe. Listen to your body. Sleep when you feel tired. Cook a healthy meal to remind you of loved ones. Be present. Sunday was my day to breathe. It was difficult to stop and allow myself to say "I need to breathe today", but I feel healthy now. I feel alive and hopeful. I've shed the weight from my shoulders and soul.

As an activist, need one be a martyr? I think about my future and wonder if it is nonsensical to think of a volunteer program as the best use of my time. Is that where I can be most effective? Or would my time be better spent working with a policy-change oriented NGO? My preference for the latter is frustrating and selfish. I have heard both perspectives during my time here. I have spent time with both types of activists, and wonder if aid work is something I should pursue. I think that what I see as futile martyrdom is putting oneself into a poor neighborhood and helping distribute bagged lunches for a year. I realize that people who do this sort of work are dedicated to the community they serve. But I feel like my participation would only contribute to the application of a new band aid over the situation. The sort of hands-on aid that I believe would be as worth-while as working in an NGO office would be spending my time in an impoverished town developing long-term sustainable change based on an analysis of root causes. There is such responsibility that comes with entering an oppressed community. Dropping in, leaving a crate of supplies, and leaving is helpful in its immediacy, but irresponsible in its inability to plant the seeds needed for larger social change. It is the contradiction and paradox of activism that I am working to sort out for myself.

1 comment:

edayis said...

Although I have never met you (I am a friend of Sarah's), I was touched by what you wrote here. I have also been wrestling with the concept of what sustainable activism looks like for some time now. There is a fine line between martyrdom and effectiveness, and I commend you for examining this aspect of the work you are doing.
I think if more people really take the time to explore some of these complexities of humanitarianism and activism, there will be a higher possibility of making well thought out, strategic, lasting change in the world.
If not careful, activism can morph into (re)activism. This is hard work. You are all very courageous.