My internal debate: do I attend, feel better about myself, join in solidarity with all the hurting and all the strong, but lose a day of house cleaning/ thesis work? Or do I stay home, wracking myself with guilt, but keep up with my weekly routine?
When I was in college, I initiated my school’s first Annual Human Rights Week. I organized events, scolded my friends, researched different causes, and set up networks. It consumed my life for an entire year. I couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t as passionate about social justice as I was. It’s our duty as human beings! We can’t keep pretending we’re not all in this together! We can’t turn a blind eye, can’t ignore reality! This isn’t a choice– it’s a responsibility, a must; the only morally acceptable path is one of complete and explicit devotion to the extension of human rights!
The exclamation points make it look like I think I was naïve, and I do believe I was, at least in the sheer energy I threw at people. But I also still think I was right, even though I am far less direct about my devotion to social justice now than I was then. And that makes me really uncomfortable in my own skin. Just like then, I still think it’s the middle-ground people who really slow down progress towards human rights. The people who are basically good, think of themselves as moral people, but don’t take action on the issues they would acknowledge are important. That attitude creates a culture of stagnancy, where it’s enough to just think the right things instead of actually attempting to create positive change. I think it’s true for many people of privilege that it’s rarely convenient to pursue social justice in meaningful ways. But what justice requires of people of privilege is a willingness to be even more than inconvenienced–I have to be willing to be challenged, corrected, and transformed.
At the same time, for my own mental health, I’ve come to highly value routine, consistency, and self-care. Events like the Millions March come up all the time, and always in the middle of some stressful period– right now, it’s finals week– where I feel like I’ll implode with anxiety if I can’t just clean my room and do my laundry in the three hours I have free. I struggle with people-pleasing and self-sacrifice; my tendency is to give and give and give and then become resentful and overwhelmed when I haven’t poured anything back into myself. So in the process of learning to take better care of myself, I’ve also become lax about participating in justice-oriented activities.
I feel stuck in this kind of fake dilemma. I feel like the obvious answer is that I need to stop making excuses and engage my own discomfort– not because my individual participation will make such a difference to anyone, but for the sake of my own conscience. So I can be able to look at myself and say, “I tried.” At the same time, that motive is totally immature. I should want to participate not so I can feel better about myself, but for the pure reason that I desire to stand in solidarity with those who are injured by the complexly malicious systems I benefit from every day– to protest injustice.