By Dae Elliott | South Bay Alliance
I recently presented to students interested in activism and it reminded me that we all needed to be agentic in our communities and the society at large. This is so much easier said than done, and many of us struggle to find the time, the energy, and the will to do what we can.
Many of us who are of the baby boomer generation have seen a lifetime of struggles involved in our attempts to make our world better.
In some cases, they are thrilling when we look back at the changes that have happened in the last 40-50 years (yes, in my lifetime!). In other cases, the frustration of seeing how far we have yet to go can be demoralizing and weigh heavily on our hearts.
It is so often a challenge merely to manage our own lives and the struggles that come with our jobs, our families, our friendships, etc. Yet, many of us ask continue the struggle, knowing we are stretching ourselves thin, knowing we will face both success and setbacks, and knowing that we could, if we so choose, quit.
So why do we continue? Why do I continue? Why do I tell people they “should” be involved?
Why not spend that time kicking back and watching everyone else do the work since there isn’t that much in it for me?
These were the questions that I had to answer for the students who are overwhelmed with both their studies and their own jobs in order to afford those studies, and hopefully reach a point where they might have a chance at the American dream.
Looking at them, knowing this, how do I answer them? How do I answer you?
Can I say, “because if we don’t, we won’t change the world?”
Yes, that is true, change happens all the time, but it is the result of those involved negotiating that directs the change.
Silence and inaction are always the bedfellows of the status quo. So should I say, “because if we don’t, all the progress we have made could quickly regress and the hard work of those in the past, the forward motion of all the sacrifice gone before, could be lost in the face of our complacency?”
Yes, I think I need to say that too.
Should I tell them that some of my most fulfilling relationships were found in the midst of these struggles and I cannot imagine their depth evolving from the mere casual encounters of everyday life? Absolutely, but then I also have to admit that there have been relationships that included a tremendous amount of frustration, pain and anger, to the point that it was maddening, yet I persisted because the cause was just and it was the right thing to do.
Yes, and indeed I told them this, but I also told them to start somewhere. Even if it is only an hour a week, engage and do what you can. If you study social movements, it is not the heroes we often hear about that make up the backbone and muscle of all movement forward. It is the unsung heroes that put in the work behind the scenes. Their work does not produce the action-packed, exciting scenes that get put into the movies but they still gave their time, their efforts, and their heart in the face of not knowing whether or not ultimate success would happen in their lifetime. They fight the good fight.
So what do I tell you? What do I tell the students? Do something so that you know you lived rather than merely watched from the sidelines as history and circumstances swept by?
Do something because there is a difference between passing time and living; and in the end, you want to be able to say, “I lived.”
— Dae Elliott is a founding executive committee member and the current executive director of South Bay Alliance, a 501(c)3 nonprofit and organizer of the annual South Bay Pride Art & Music Festival. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.