Stress less. Your work is bigger than you.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.We must love each other and support each other.We have nothing to lose but our chains.” ~ Assata Shakur
Berkeley, the city where I live, along with many others, celebrates Juneteenth (June 19), the day when slaves in Texas were liberated 149 years ago, almost three years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. It is a day that reminds us of the atrocity of slavery in the United States, and celebrates the freedom that was won not just on the battlefield, but by years of people fighting to end it. From legislative advocacy, to slaves’ uprisings, to the Underground Railroad, to the work of leaders like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, a wide range of efforts over time were made by many people to end slavery.
Why do I bring this to the Move to End Violence’s blog?
As I thought about Move to End Violence’s work to end violence against women and girls, I realized that our work is creating social justice history too, the same way that the abolitionist movement did. The work of each and every person in this initiative is contributing to a society that values women and girls, and treats all people with respect and dignity. When I look at Move to End Violence’s work, my personal work to be a better leader, or my organization’s work to make the world a better place in the context of this history-making, the day-to-day challenges often feel smaller.
As an example, I joined a group of organizers working to build a national network of Asian Pacific Islander leaders across the country in 2004, right before the “re-election” of George W. Bush. We called ourselves API Movement Building and our purpose was to move API communities towards progressive values. We would regularly meet by conference call to discuss what projects or campaigns we could take up that would create more connection and alignment among our communities. It was difficult to come to agreement sometimes because all of our regions were so different – the number of organizations, the types of strategies people were engaged in, which API community. Despite the many projects we developed, I would often feel like we were not accomplishing anything on these conference calls.
Last month, Chinese Progressive Association, one of the organizations that had been involved from the start, launched a new center for Asian American movement building called Seeding Change, which includes a national organizer training program. The “seeds” we planted in those late night conference call debates were tended to by many people over the years and I’m so proud of how all of the work has bloomed now. I would have never expected it years ago, but it happened because many people stayed connected to the larger vision of building powerful, progressive API communities.
In the moments, when I remember I am part of a much larger line of people who have worked to transform our communities, I can let go of the need to accomplish or win in the moment, because the work is so much bigger. In those moments, I can get back up from my frustration and begin again.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that we need to ignore the stress, or sacrifice our sustainability as individual leaders by not taking care of ourselves. On the contrary, I’ve found that holding the bigger, historical picture as my vision helps me to release some of my overwhelm in times of stress and crisis, and stay focused on my greater commitment to social transformation. I certainly took a step back from the API Movement Building work at different points. This allowed me to reconnect with my purpose and the larger vision of the work so I could come back, rested and renewed, to make a valuable contribution to the effort.
I’ve always resonated with the Assata Shakur quote above, but the word “duty” can feel like a heavy load for me as one person to carry. Instead, I like to think of “duty” as a promise to live my purpose as part of a larger movement.
I promise to contribute to social transformation to the best of my ability. I promise to help move us towards “wins.” I promise to love myself and others. I promise to remember that when I am living my purpose, I have nothing to lose.
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