Friday, June 27, 2008

1-2-3-4 we don't want this dirty war, 5-6-7-8...

In high school, I was an activist. Whether it was child labor, police brutality, the Iraq war, or the environment, I was there and ready with my witty homemade sign hollering down the streets of Manhattan, Philadelphia, DC, and España. From protests to information forums, from youth speak-out sessions to being co-head of the social action committee, I organized, facilitated, and participated my way through them all. I had my cause, many in fact, and I was passionate about making positive change about these injustices through education and the congregation of passionate, like-minded people.

I was proud of what I did and the issues I stood for. My parents were thrilled to see their daughter passionate and opinionated about global social change. Even when I was arrested on April 7, 2003 at a protest in front of the Carlyle Group Offices in Manhattan and charged with two counts of disorderly conduct and one count of ‘obstructing the governmental administration of the law,’ (a class A misdemeanor) and my picture appeared on the front page of the New York Times Metro Section, my father told everyone in his office proudly and my mother made a poster with my picture and related articles.

I proudly walked around my liberal arts college, knowing that I had done great things in my young life. But had I?

The year was 2005 and I was sitting across from Harry in a restaurant somewhere in Mexico. I started bragging about my activism record. Harry was unimpressed. “Yea. Ok. But what did you do?” He asked, “What did you accomplish by getting arrested? What did you DO by going to the protest? What change did you promote?” Furious and insulted, I threw some half-thoughtout gibberish at him about how, by educating people about issues, I was making positive change. The conversation spiraled out of my control and I went to bed that night unhappy and defeated.

But of course, Harry spoke with a grain (if not a bushel) of truth. So much that I had worked for, had dedicated myself to, collapsed. I wasn’t making the kind of change that I wanted to. Protests were meaningless because it was a congregation of the like-minded who, instead of including people, pushed them away. Getting arrested did nothing except leave me with a good story to tell. (And, oh, what a sweet story it is...)

So I began the painful process of abandoning previous assumptions and starting anew. What were the ways I wanted to change the world that would be both effective and true to my values? I came up with two: education and media. The media, I reasoned, was too corrupt to dip my fingers into. I would be told what a could and couldn't write. And I risk not being published due to content. So, education it was! And I began my path towards teacherhood.

But it’s not that easy, I found out. As I traveled more, I came across new lessons to learn and new battles to fight against. In Central America I talked with people who had fought (yea with guns) for their right to self-govern and still they lived under corrupt governments. I saw poverty and I looked her in the face. In the West Bank, people were living under a harsh occupation. The things I saw and the stories I heard were unbearable.

And the question I’ve been grappling with is: how can I help? I’m just one person. Sure I can buy groceries for a starving family, but does that solve the problem of poverty? No. I can send a stream of curses to an occupying solder, but does that DO anything? No. How can I help?

It’s true that we cannot solve all the problems in the world, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore them. If we make small, lasting and positive impacts on the world and the people around us, we can feel proud. Global change doesn’t occur in an hour from one single event, but rather it occurs when people get together and put their minds and resources together for a common cause. Let’s start small and think big. Before we know it our efforts will yield beautiful results.


Anonymous said...

haha you got arrested on my birthday!

oh and when are you going to write something i disagree with?

Upper West Side said...

Big changes happen because people dare to speak out against the conventional wisdom. It may start out as one voice or several talking to themselves. It may take (five ) years before the majority catches up or they may never but that's no reason not to try.

Please never stop speaking the truth as you see it. You give courage to others. You're terrific.