Sunday, November 20, 2016

Civic engagement is the new prozac

Like many of you, I'm in suddenly all aflutter with motivation to speak up and embrace my individual voice as an activist.  This newfound fire under our collectively complacent white privileged asses is one of the silver linings of the giant orange, gross storm cloud known as Trump.

At times I want to wallow in hopelessness and fear.  I could easily let my facebook posts dissolve into a flurry of righteous fury (see how I did that?  With the flurry and the fury?  They're like, almost the same word, except for the letter L, and the extra R for some reason!).   Sometimes my posts are self-righteous and indignant, and when that happens I go hit delete.  Because there is enough negative crap in social media world.  And the truth is, all we really have, ever, is the present moment.  And in this present moment, I can choose to take action.  Small actions, yes, but if ALL of the millions of Hillary voters and disillusioned 3rd party voters and non-voters started doing small things on a regular basis???  The world wouldn't know what hit it!    

Sadly, it takes a drastic situation to get many of us off of our asses (apparently I really enjoy writing the word "ass").   The reality is that it takes a sense of desperation for us to embrace activism, which still carries with it a stereotype of angry old hippis with long gray hair and an affinity for slightly out of tune folk music and mason jars.  BUT...what if activism became hip?  What if hipsters put down their PBRs to call their representatives?  What if millenials took selfies at marches instead of, uh, wherever millenials currently take selfies?  What if all the rich white conservative Christians who I used to go to church with in Bellevue attended a Black Lives Matter march?  What if people who claim that they "aren't political" (as it this is the same thing as saying you don't like to bowl) could see that civic engagement is really just like being part of one big PTA, but on a larger scale, and with less mompetitors?  

Yes, I do know that it's important to grieve, and to allow ourselves time for our emotions.  I am admittedly not very good at the aforementioned feeling of the emotions.  So maybe this post is one big avoidance tactic.  Also- I get that many people are truly afraid for their safety and may not feel inclined to show up on the streets to protest.  Many of you have experienced far more oppression than I have; I grew up as an upper middle class straight white Christian. I even attended a private Christian high school in Bellevue (gags to self).  So I cannot claim to know what it is like to be a person of color or a Muslim or a member of the gay community.   But based on my intermittent and very humble involvement in the gun violence prevention movement, I can share that there is nothing more healing and empowering than getting involved.  It's like chicken soup for the Trump-traumatized soul.  

So, for those of you who are ready to take small actions, and who find action to be healing (insert lewd joke about getting action), I am sharing my own humble to-do list. I can't take credit for this list.  It's a compilation of brilliant suggestions from the many brilliant people I interact with daily on facebook (despite my daily vow to spend less time on FB).  It's not thoroughly researched, nor is it comprehensive.   But at least it's somewhere to start. 

1) Support your local Muslim community.   One great organization is CAIR (The Council on American-Islamic Relations).  CAIR is the nation's largest Muslim civil rights organization. Their mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.   Visit the Washington website for local opportunities to support and advocate for our Muslim neighbors.  There are links to lists of anti-Muslim organizations, as well as suggested actions to take to fight Islamophobia.

2) Support refugees in your region.  Here in Seattle there is a fabulous organization called ReWa which "has grown to become one of the largest non-profit refugee and immigrant service providers in the Puget Sound area".   They have a wealth of fantastic volunteer opportunities.  If you're a teacher or a school based SLP, consider volunteering to help ELL students.   I'm going to look volunteering for their summer program in 2017.   

3) I am the last person to ever tell someone to go to church.  But on a personal level, I have been craving the sense of intergenerational warm fuzzy community that is nearly impossible to find outside of religious organizations.  Community support of some type is a good way to stay engaged and not lose heart.   And I want my son to learn about social justice and be around people of other backgrounds and beliefs. However, my husband is not a Christian, and he suffered some pretty ugly stuff at the hands of his Catholic classmates when he briefly attended a Catholic School that had a program for dyslexia.  So for him, communion triggers memories of sitting on the sidelines during school chapel services and being teased.  I have my own weird history with Christianity and I'm still sorting it out.  So to summarize, a Christian church is not an option for our family at the moment.  Drumroll...enter the Unitarian Universalist church (UUC). UUC members have a long history of involvement in social justice, beginning with their support of the abolitionist movement. For those who aren't familiar with the UUC, here is the national website.  

We attended our first service this morning at the Shoreline UUC, and it was like putting on a giant warm blanket of community that smelled like freshly baked bread. The "pastor" (I use this term loosely) based her sermon on the teachings of Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun who is one of my favorite authors.  Candles were lit for individual struggles, which were shared by members in open community support group style.  We sang hymns of reconciliation and unity. People cried about the state of affairs.  People offered each other hope.   Amidst all this, our son opted to sit next to us and draw pictures of bombs (his current cartoon-based obsession) (note to self: no more Inspector Gadget) instead of going to Sunday school, but no one really cared.  In other words, we felt right at home.   I'm looking forward to getting a weekly dose of hope and community in this sacred space.  I'm excited to have a group to meet up with at Marches and meetings and other small acts of engagement.

4) Support the "Black Lives Matter" Movement.  

I am attending the march in Seattle on Black Friday.  My privileged white angst is telling me that it may be dangerous, the police may be involved, and that there may be rogue protesters who incite violence, even though it is specifically meant to be peaceful and family friendly event.  But hello- this sense of fear for safety is something that people of color live with EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.   So yes, I can stand to leave my safe suburban bubble for just one afternoon and act in solidarity with people whose basic rights have been silently ignored by white liberal privilege for far too long.   There will always be a fringe group of people who don't understand the value of nonviolent protest.  But we can't use that as an excuse to NOT show up.  

5) Host a "calling" party, where you gather friends and call your representatives about the infinite number of concerns we all have.  Because let's face it- calling government representatives is scary and painfully awkward. Personally, I always feel like I'm back in 7th grade history class, and find myself forgetting how the government actually works (side note: people who work in politics and law- God bless those analytical fact-retaining brains of yours- I'm going to just stay over here in musician/speech therapist land and applaud your efforts).  If you're worried about the timing of calling east coast offices, a wise fellow mom I know who used to work for Patty Murray in DC (cough cough Susan cough cough) said that you CAN indeed leave a message, and the messages DO get checked and recorded onto the list of callers.  So yay!  Happy hour calling party!  Who's in?

6) Focus on just a few areas, or just one area.  With the current state of affairs, there is just SO much to do.  But no one person can do it all, and anyone who tries to do it all will get spread so thin that they run away in fear, leaving a life-sized tiny toons hole in the wall.   I say this as a founding member of the "try to do all the things and then freak out and do none of the things" club.   And thus, my list will end here.  Although I could go on about the environment, gun control, oh God oh God oh God...panic what was I saying???  Oh yes, this brings me to one more thing...

7) BREATH.  None of us are any good to the world or to each other if we've got ourselves so tangled up in anxiety that we can't leave our bedroom.  Breathing (and sometimes, prozac) centers us, and reminds us that really, truly, all we have is the present moment.   Right now, the world is NOT exploding.  Right now I am sitting on my couch, with a yoga pants wedgie that needs to be addressed as soon as I finish this post.   Right now my cat's ever-growing muffin top is hanging over the side of the couch, and my child is obsessing over Christmas Lights.  Right now I should probably help with this parenting situation before my husband goes insane.  So I'm going to breath in, breath out, and be present.  And turn on a cartoon for the kid.

Happy action-finding to all of you (snort).

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