I was moved by Rebekah Buchanan's commentary on the courage and heroism of Mamie Till-Mobley, and Rebekah's own call to activism as a mother. It humbled me to think of Ms. Till-Mobley carrying on with such incredible strength and endurance after the violent murder of her son, driven by love and outrage.
Rebekah’s work made me contemplate my own power and privilege, as well as my responsibility. The great injustices that remain can be paralyzing and overwhelming, but I honestly believe if each and every one of us made small steps at integrating activism into our own daily lives, great progress would be made.
When I think of activism, I think of public demonstrations, and oh how valuable these are—to stand in community and make visible our shared outrage, our thirst for justice, our desire for tangible change, and our refusal to stand idly by. The Oxford English Dictionary defines activism as “The… act of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.” I have come to approach activism as a daily act. I try to do what I can, when I can, where I am. I believe we are all connected. We all have the ability to enact change and be changed. I started small, with myself, my own messy life.
My way back to activism began four years ago. I campaigned as an undergraduate and graduate student for causes centered on human rights, equality, and justice. Then I became a mother, and then a full time teacher, and my life was something I tried to keep in organized boxes, where my teaching didn’t touch my mothering, and my mothering didn’t touch my teaching. I felt fragmented, like I was constantly juggling chain saws and machetes, living always at a slight remove from my body and my life.
On a run with Rebekah, I admitted my experience and complained that I just wanted to live my life fully. “Why don’t you?” she asked.
Real friends ask the tough questions we often avoid asking ourselves. What if I didn’t try to box up my life? What if I just lived it as one big messy plate where the peas get on the mashed potatoes and the bread gets soft with gravy and kind of pink from the delicious homemade cranberry sauce, and it all still tastes delicious even if it looks whack? What if I used what I’d learned as a mother in my work life, and applied the patience and curiosity I have cultivated in teaching to my home life? What if I stopped doing what I imagined I should do in each area of my life to be “good” and followed my gut, my heart, and my intuition?
I also began to sit in silence each morning. I learned a great deal about the way I think, the way I speak to myself, and what I fear. My biggest fear is that I will be discovered as an unlovable imposter. As soon as I named this fear, I was amazed by how many shared it with me. Most days I combat this fear with humor and compassion and turning outward. In silence, I began to tentatively respect myself; to change my monologue. I stopped using the word fat and used sweet instead. My derriere was always looking sweet.
While my heart was softening toward myself, I saw an incredible documentary. In Revolutionary Optimists, former attorney, Amlan Ganguly empowers children of the slums of Kolkata to become change agents, battling poverty and transforming their neighborhoods with dramatic results. It changed me.
I want to be like the activist children of Kolkata. I want to choose radical and revolutionary optimism. To turn, even when I am despairing, my face toward joy. I decided to set my mind, heart, and body toward change, however small, with those amazing children in mind. To use my anger as a catalyst for action. You can too.
I have failed often. But honestly, the activists I know make it their life’s rich work, their campaigns threaded through their entirety, some knowing they may never live to see the rich harvest of the seeds they have planted.
If I believe in anything, I believe in love and justice. If I want to be anything these days, it is to be a conduit of love—my hands, my words, both spoken and written, the food I cook—let the origins be that of love. And when I think I have none to give--as there are times, my friends, when we are just broke and weary in the love-to-give-department--let me be brave enough to ask it of others and to accept it, fully.
Sometimes the most radical act is allowing others to love us, certain we have nothing to give in return. But when we can give, let us go about doing the worthy and difficult work of love. Let us go about doing the worthy work of justice.
Barbara Harroun is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.