Well, I’m still unemployed, not even taking summer classes, and yet I feel like I still have a million things I need to accomplish. How does that even work? I guess this is what semi-adulting feels like. My parents believe otherwise that I am an adult (I am so grateful for them and their support hehe). When I look at what I’m doing with this time, I guess I have taken this time to heal. I am healing from many things, as we all are to an extent. But right now I’m healing from my recent stint in social and environmental justice work. I just came back from working with the student portion of a large environmental organization as a trainer for young activists where I shared my knowledge about social and environmental campaign organizing and anti-oppression work. It was a weeklong intensive in Colorado where a wonderful-inspring-radical-passionate team of trainers and directors, that I have lots of love for, and I facilitated trainings and workshops to an equally wonderful-inspiring-radical-passionate group of participants of all ages. It was truly a learned experience for me and you’re probably wondering why I need to heal from the experience. Well, let me show you a list of just a few of the things I learned from my experience.
- Having conversations where you question the underlying, core beliefs of your society can have you question yourself at your core. When you have been taught certain beliefs since your birth and then all of a sudden start to break down certain dominant paradigms, this process can bring up extremely confusing emotions and you might not know where they stem exactly from, which can make it even more difficult to heal. These emotions can be especially difficult if these beliefs involve identity. For example, when you have been taught your entire life that gender is a binary between man and woman then realizing that there’s more to gender than just women being feminine and men being masculine, your own identity can come into question. Questions like “Who am I anymore?” or “Well, if that’s not how I should see the world, then how should I see the world?” come up and, frankly, no one can fully answer those questions. You can read books, watch documentaries, ask your peers to find answers, but those answers your looking for are always evolving. When you’re someone like me, who always needs to always have the answers, who needs to know the facts, this can be extremely difficult to comprehend.
- People do not like to acknowledge their privilege or that they experience oppression in their everyday life, and have an extremely hard time understanding that it’s not black and white or a binary. No one wants to talk about that an identity they were born into perpetuates systems of oppression. No one wants to talk about that an identity they were born into disproportionately experiences more oppression than another identity. There are connotations behind privilege and experiencing oppression that I think need to be broken down, so that we can have more constructive conversations on the topic. There are connotations around experiencing oppression that is means that if you experience oppression you are sad, live a miserable life, you are weak, not as worthy or deserve pity just like there are connotations around people who hold privilege that they are happy, live fulfilling lives, are stronger, or don’t experience hardship. I think we need to break down these stereotypes so that we can stop thinking our selfworths, how we think of ourselves, and our happiness depends on if we experience privilege or oppression (Also, side note, don’t tell someone that they should feel personally oppressed because they hold a certain identity, like that’s just messed up y’all. Internalized oppression is a whole conversation that I just don’t feel like talking about right now). That’s why talking about intersectionality of identities is so important! I kind of wish I could just scream INTERSECTIONALITY to the heavens right now, but I’m sitting in a coffee shop and I don’t want to disrupt everyone’s nice cups of coffee. The lovely consumer monopoly and our friend, Google, gave me a wonderful definition for intersectionality that says, “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”. For example, a form of intersectionality that shows up in my life is that I have experienced oppression as a woman in this society, but I also hold immense privilege for being a white individual in the United States.
- The campaigning and social/environmental justice work world can be extremely manipulating. It can manipulate you by telling you to feel a certain way, manipulate you into working for free when you can’t afford it, and manipulate you into working to the point where you burnout. The number of people I know who work in non-profits, social and/or environmental activism, and on campaigns who have ended up feeling burnout, broke, or with health ailments caused by stress is rather ridiculous at this point. Because of how many people in this kind of work end up badly, they will preach selfcare at you. I imagine how much people say the word “selfcare” in the social/environmental justice world to be similar to the scene in the animated movie Finding Nemo, where all the seagulls start saying “Mine! Mine! Mine!”. In my experience, the same individuals who are preaching at you to take selfcare tend to be the same individuals who are trying to push your boundaries and ask more of you than you can give, which can be extremely confusing. When I experienced this, it was frustrating because the organization I was working with at the time was trying to break down hierarchical systems within the organization and use consensus decision making. But there were still certain individuals who held most of the knowledge and experience in the group, who were self-declared “mentor” figures, but really they actually held authoritative positions. So, they would delegate tasks to me and I felt like I couldn’t refuse because they would tell me that “this will be a great learning opportunity for you” and “I’m confident that you can complete this task” without actually supporting me when I needed it. Now this is my own experience with just one of the organizations I’ve worked with, so I’m definitely not saying this is the case for all social and/or environmental justice organizations or non-profits. But another experience where I observed this work being manipulating, that may have occurred at this week long intensive as well, was during anti-oppression trainings, in workshops, and in one-on-ones asking participants and trainers to open up and be vulnerable more than they are ready or willing to. How asking people to open up more than they are willing to can be manipulative and problematic, is that most of us are not therapists or psychiatrists. We are not trained in how to support others in how to deal with the strong emotions that can come up when people open themselves up and are vulnerable with us. So when people metaphorically spill their guts and vital organs to us, we are not metaphorical surgeons who know how to sew that person back up. I’ve definitely made the mistake of asking people to share more than they are willing to and I regret it because now I realize how manipulative that can be. Because we rarely address these issues in the moment, many people, including myself, have had to leave certain organizations or this work in general and that’s really a bummer.
So, I think I’m going to take a very long break from the social and environmental justice world. I’m mean, frankly, I’m never actually leaving the social and environmental justice world behind because I will be forever having these conversations, but I’m specifically leaving the campaign organizing world indefinitely. I’d rather make radical change through small conversations with the people in my life and through the small decisions I make in my daily life. Anyways, this weeklong intensive has made me think about a lot of things in my life.