Monday, September 22, 2014

My activist heart

I was Worship Associate at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara yesterday and as part of the service, I not only got to be the voice of Mother Earth (!), but I also delivered this reflection on the tension of wanting to devote your life to making the world a better place and the daily demands of life.
You might not think by looking at me that I am an activist.

In college I worked in inner city schools in Lansing, Michigan to try to prepare the kids they deemed “disadvantaged” to go to college. Later, after grad school, I quit my corporate Training Manager job and helped start a charter school in Philadelphia based on the radical constructivist educational beliefs of Paolo Freire. I’ve participated in pro-choice rallies and I even got to sit in the office of the Deputy Governor of Pennsylvania and explain how the legislation they were passing to heavily regulate women’s health facilities would impact the women of Pennsylvania.  I financially support several grassroots and lobbying organizations that support movements like equality, clean water and climate change.  On Martin Luther King Day, I take my children to work on projects in the community.

I’m proud to be a Unitarian Universalist, in part, because of our history and beliefs rooted in social justice. I am an activist in the deepest part of my being, wanting to change the world, leaving it better than when I came into it.

There’s another side to the story, though. I don’t know what happened to those kids I tutored in Lansing…I graduated before most of them would have ever even applied to college. Two years after helping start Freire Charter School, I had to leave and get a “real job” because I couldn’t afford my student loan payments. That legislation in Pennsylvania passed and many, many clinics that had provided abortion services were forced to close their doors. By that time, I was accepting the job that moved me here to Carpinteria.

I want to be an activist, I want to stand up for my liberal beliefs, I want to make the world better, and yet the demands of daily life: my financial obligations, the things I want to be able to provide to my children and the things that simply bring me joy…these things are in constant competition with this feeling that I can, and should, make a difference.

I feel this most acutely when I see the phenomenal work and effort of others. Becca Claassen, one of our own congregation, has dedicated her time, energy…her life…to her passion: protecting our water in Santa Barbara county and working against climate change. I cannot tell you how much I admire her and the work that she is doing, standing up for what she believes in. Her passion and commitment is inspiring as an example of living our principles.
Watching Becca and others who live their values makes me deeply consider if I’m practicing what I preach. We all have our unique passions that drive us, and mine is gender equality. As a woman in the tech and gaming industries, I’ve faced more bias, discrimination and harassment than even those closest to me will probably ever know. I’m not alone and gender discrimination in the workplace is just the tip of the iceberg. Recent public conversations about street harassment, rape culture in schools and college campuses and the heightened focus on domestic violence prompted by arrests and indictments of NFL players, fuel my passion to work toward gender equality. When I see the work of Wendy Davis in Texas, I long to join the cause that seeks to make this country, this world, just as safe and full of opportunity for my daughters as it is for my sons.

There is a tension. I’m not in a position that I could quit my job and dedicate my time to gender equality, even if that’s where my activist heart is. I have bills and kids and a house to take care of and commitments to honor to my family and to myself.

What can I do? For me, the sentiment “Think global, act local” rings true. Maybe today isn’t my day to change the world in a big, public way. Maybe there will never be that day. But today is the day that I can teach my children about gender bias and discrimination. It IS the day that I can raise issues in my workplace that level the playing field. It IS the day I can write blog posts, post articles via social media. It IS the day that I can offer financial support to those who are dedicating their lives to the causes I believe in. It IS the day that I can jump in when I can, to march in a rally or make canvasing calls.

Today is the day that I have shared my passions with all of you. Maybe you are a passionate feminist too…maybe there are ways we can work together and support each other. Maybe today is the day that you share what you’re passionate about with someone after the service and you make a connection that leads to action that really does make the world better.

Maybe I don’t have to be an army of one to change the world. Maybe we are the army already.

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