I grew up in a community of organizers, understanding why social justice work is necessary and committing myself to spend my life organizing. I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to creating positive change in the place of oppressive institutions and I used to have a vision of what such a world would look like. What I lacked was an understanding of how best to grapple with the emotionally exhausting aspects of the work and the many defeats that come before every victory.
In the past two years, I have found myself consistently angry at the world for being so oppressive, and increasingly hopeless as the work I had been doing for nearly 8 years had seemingly brought no real victories for my communities–racism, classism, sexism and heterosexism are still engrained in every aspect of society. I found myself organizing out of anger at all the injustice, making it so that after a while, injustice was all that I could see. I am a firm believer in approaching life from a critical lens and understanding ones own position in the world. Yet, my critical lens turned into a cynical lens as I lost faith in the work I had always been so passionate about continuing. In other words, I hit burnout.
I knew that something had to change, and so I set out to find answers to all of my questions.
Returning to Generation Justice for an internship allowed me the space to explore these questions in a more formal way. I interviewed four organizers and spiritual leaders who had many of the answers I was looking for and then blogged in reflection.
My first interview was with Reverend Martha Quintana, Senior Minister at the Rio Grande Center for Spiritual Living. Rev. Quintana helped me to understand that if I want peace in the world, I must first know what peace looks like within myself. As organizers, we must have a vision of the world we are working towards and “a mental equivalent” of this world within ourselves.
My second interview was with Reverend Daniel Erdman of the Presbyterian Faith. He articulated to me something he learned while working in Nicaragua during the civil war: the value of celebration, especially when in crisis. Life is precious and time is limited, it is important to celebrate the people we love and the moments we have with them. Reverend Erdman also talked about the value of creating conscious relationships in forming a sustainable organizing culture.
My third interview was with Reverend John D. Hill of Grant Chapel African Methodist Epicopal Church. He spoke about how faith and organizing are about meeting people where they are at, even if that place is entirely different from your own.
My fourth and final interview was with Shash Yazhi, a transformational organizer and founder of Spirit in Motion and Eagle Evolution. Shash Yazhi re-affirmed for me the importance of creating an organizing culture that reflects transformation and incorporates spirituality. He expressed the importance of bringing your whole self to the table, including your spiritual self.
In our world, there has always been oppression in some shape or form, and there have always been those who work to counter oppression in their organizing and their everyday lives.
Both Reverends Quintana and Erdman expressed that the best way to counter oppression is to create an organizing culture in the image of the world we are working to create, in which each of us can experience being loved, valued and cherished. At the core of this is creating conscious relationships with other organizers so that the work is about much more than organizing, it is about learning and trusting and creating with one another. Healthy relationships within the organizing structure are vital to the overall health of the movement.
When it comes to the mental health of each organizer, Reverend Quintana said something that I really needed to hear: “Don’t let the fact that the world doesn’t change tomorrow make you feel like you have failed.”
People have been organizing for social justice forever. If the work being done decades ago is coming into realization now, then the work we are doing today may take a few decades to become tangible. Our vision for the future may not come about in our lifetime, or even our children’s lifetime, but the work that we do today will help bring about positive change someday, even if we are not alive to witness it.
I am coming to understand that the only sustainable way to organize is out of love. Yes, there is a place for anger in social justice work, it challenges us and often motivates us, but love is what sustains us. We do the work that we do because we love our families, our communities and want better for generations to come. But our love of community and the vision we are working towards cannot be disconnected from our love and vision for ourselves as individuals–as pieces of the puzzle. Part of what loving and taking care of our community means, is loving and taking care of ourselves. For me, it is this love that is the connection between social justice and spirituality.
by: Lucia Martinez