The other night I asked my husband Dan, who organizes tenants, why he’s drawn to social justice work. He said, “It makes me angry when things are unfair. And I like to watch snakes squirm.”
Then he posed the same question to me and I said this: I’m morally obligated to help create a better world that I know is possible. We have a big pile of work that needs getting done if we wanna win. If everyone chipped in we’d win right away. But some people cannot do the work and some aren’t ready. I’m ready and able, so I take on extra.
I excel at operational stuff — planning meetings, recruiting for canvasses and phone banks, managing events — which makes me well-suited for electoral work. I have a knack for troubleshooting because my brain automatically preps contingency plans for the many pitfalls I might encounter. I’m also good at talking to strangers, listening to their problems with empathy and respect, and hiding my true feelings when necessary. This is because I’ve worked in customer service most of my life; anyone who tells you that’s unskilled labor has obviously never worked with me.
I’m a chunky gear in a massive machine, churning for justice. I help keep the operation running by turning lots of little gears. I am not a charismatic leader. I won’t be leading the march with a megaphone, speaking at a press conference, or running for office. You won’t read about me in the news. I spin and turn those little gears quietly.
I don’t like being called an activist. An activist is a person in the limelight. I’m an organizer, which is a very pragmatic and unsexy thing. I’ll be honest, I don’t trust a lot of people who assume “activist” as an identity. Some people come into the movement looking for social media fame or a paid job. Most of them aren’t half as charming or effective as their narcissism leads them to believe.
The movement needs true charismatic leaders like my man Dan — people who make a spectacle of confronting power — because watching the snakes squirm inspires all of us to do more. But we also need lots and lots of gears of various size, turning in tandem, powering us through that big pile of work. Those are the people I tend to recruit, the quiet, deliberate ones.