I told you where I’m spending money to put my values in action, and I promised you a post about the things I’ll be doing in the world to make it a better place. This is it.
These are my approaches to living my values in the world. This is not a comprehensive list of your possibilities, and should not imply that you should do all or any of these. There are lots of these lists on Internet to choose your own activism from.
After the election, after the inauguration, after the Executive Orders and protests of the first couple weeks, I am prouder than ever to be working as a grant writer for Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners. Our work, providing low-income people with financial skills and access to the formal financial system, serves a client base that is overwhelmingly women, People of Color, immigrants, and concentrated in two of the lowest-paying, fastest-growing sectors of the post-crisis economy, health care and retail, where wages are actually declining. 70% of Americans depend on government assistance, 42% of American workers make less than $15/hr, 69% of mothers and 79% of fathers see their hours fluctuate up or down as much as 40% from week to week, and for these people, things are only going to get worse.
No matter what else happens, whether anything else I do makes an impact, going to work every day is fighting back. I consider myself very lucky that in the balancing act between civic action and getting paid, I can feel good about going to work. I recommend thinking now about how the scales level out on that in your life. And if you have to go to work because it puts food on your table more than for the good of the world, don’t feel guilty. Your household comes first.
Sharpening My Focus
I can’t be all things to all people. It would be a mistake to try, because I would be spreading myself too thin too be effective. So I’ve chosen two primary focuses, Muslim/Arab Americans and Black lives, and two secondary focuses, people with disabilities and learning more about the issues of trans youth. This doesn’t mean that women’s issues, Dreamers, refugees, queer people or a dozen other things aren’t important to me. It just means I’ll be concentrating my energy on a few top-line efforts.
It also doesn’t mean I’m not keeping an intersectional approach in mind. These aren’t discrete categories, but identities straddled by, for example, queer trans Muslims and Black women with disabilities and lesbian Dreamers. I try to hold space in my head and my words for those intersections. I also fail at this a lot, but I think I keep failing better.
I built this blog to write about Arabs and Muslims who have been a meaningful part of my life. I find that I can no longer do that without also becoming political and activist. I haven’t yet decided what the new focus will look like, but stay tuned.
It started with a rally to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada. Could I help a friend make a couple signs in Arabic? I made some welcoming signs, and shared them on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Worship Web, from whence they’ve been used by churches, schools, protestors and others all over the United States. Then there was a call for wearables, and I made buttons I’ve been sending all over the country. I’ve given away at least 800 in the last year, and in the last month, I’ve sold more than a hundred of them on Zazzle, and a couple bumper stickers, too.
I wrote a children’s story appropriate for use in congregational worship, I’ve created more signs with custom messages, done some translation, and I’m open to other requests as they come.
To White People
You know who you are, you mothers and teachers and students and and colleagues and writers and believers and strivers. You don’t know what to do, or you’re afraid you’re doing it wrong, or not doing enough, or spreading yourself too thin, or are otherwise floundering, curious, well-intentioned, anxious. Inasmuch as I have the time and the emotional capacity, I am trying to answer your questions, listen to your concerns, give you ideas and encouragement, teach and support you.
To Other People
Sometimes, my Muslim, queer, Black, multi-racial, Jewish, female, immigrant, disabled and otherwise marginalized friends and family seem to feel that they can talk to me and I will listen well. I continue to strive to be that person. But though I am saying this here, it’s not my place to say, “I’m an ally.” It is the place of my friends and family to decide whether my words and actions look like someone they can talk to. It’s my job to recognize when I’m being trusted with someone’s emotional needs and not screw it up. (Again, I often fail, but hopefully always fail better.)
You know I’m both a nerd and a teacher. It’s a life-long compulsion to gather information, process and reshape it, and share it with others. In the words of a friend, I see it as my job to curate Facebook for you, to push information at you, being as broad and provocative as possible, while still trying to be responsible about the sources I share.
A certain amount of what I share on Facebook falls into this category, where I use my network to share the views of people who aren’t like me. Sometimes what I share is not just because I find it interesting. Sometimes it’s because I want to help spread the opinions of a community other than my own.
There’s a lot of anxiety in the world today about Muslim and Arab people, about trans people, about queer people … and also about conservative people, rural people, religious people. In my life, I’ve had the good fortune to know a lot of all those people, have really positive relationships with a lot of different kinds of people.
I believe in the power of stories, the power stories have to humanize people we wanted to demonize, to change hearts and minds. I’m trying to tell my stories to people who might not have heard them, by publishing, through some public speaking, and in ordinary conversation.
I believe in the power of stories because they have changed me. My first gay friends were fictional. Some of my earliest exposure to Afghanistan as a child was through books recommended by my grandmother. And I’ve learned a lot about the lives and struggles of Black people, trans people, Native people, immigrants and refugees through reading their personal stories. I’ll continue to read stories as widely and with as open a mind as I can.
This is the hardest one for me, nonconfrontational as I am. This is about speaking up when I hear racist, sexist, ableist, classist or otherwise offensive language or arguments. Sometimes I’m happy with myself when I just call someone out with a simple “That’s inapproporiate.” My preference, though, is to call someone in with a little more compassion, when I can manage it.
I think it’s important to get out in the streets when and as you can, stand and march with your like-minded people, showing the power of your numbers to the powers that be. It invigorates me, reminds me that I’m not alone, shows me how different and yet the same our progressive community can be.
Yet, I am putting this last because
a) I’m sick this weekend and it reminds me that I can’t always be in the streets
b) There are lots of people who, for medical, family, financial and other reasons, can’t march often or ever
c) There are a lot of people for whom it’s not safe to march
While marching is great, it’s not the only thing, or even the most important thing we can do. So I will march when I can, and do other things when I can’t, and take the time for self care when I need it.
Gosh! When I put it all in one place … I guess I’m doing a lot. So my last suggestion is:
Then get intentional, and regular, and systematic, and do it.