When I mentioned to my co-worker that I had read a book by this title, she thought I was quoting a poem attributed to Mother Teresa the link to which you can find here.
This poem, in fact, is housed in the front-pages of Courtney E. Martin’s book, Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists. It was a book that I easily read in one sitting; published in 2010, it was a profile of eight activist under the age of 35, members of a generation that Martin laments has been unfairly labeled “entitled, self-absorbed and apathetic.” I can’t say that I completely disagree with the analysis, or even the fact that this analysis might be unfair and under-informed. Martin, throughout the book, is able to vocalize her frustrations with the demands that have been made on us by our parents, whose generation was basically defined by broad social movements, and her intimidation by our current globalized world and the various seemingly insurmountable injustices that fill it. “Contemporary efforts at social change often seem like going into a black hole,” she says. “It’s easy to get lost once you’re sucked in–consider the complexities, the danger of good intentions, the comprehensive impact of multinational corporations, the ethical quagmires around every corner…It’s easy to feel like failure is inevitable.”
She seems like one iteration of myself as she discusses how strange it must seem for so many privileged young white women to take up crusades against social injustices. Her reasoning is refreshing, waxing philosophical rather than self-recriminating. She quotes Jane Addams in saying, “We may either smother the Divine Fire of youth or feed it.” Martin emphasizes something that is sometimes too painful to say, that our happiness and privilege is empty without meaningful actions and convictions to back up that happiness.
Though she does examine the life and death of Rachel Corrie, who was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting the demolition of a Palestinian home, most of the activists are alive and working hard day-to-day within the United States. She interviews filmmaker Emily Abt, a filmmaker who has done documentaries on sexual violence and HIV/AIDS along with actress Rosario Dawson who use art to convey their messages. Not only these people, but environmental justice advocates and advocates for female veterans whose main arena is what often seems like the brick wall of policy. Each of these people, as well as the teachers, philanthropists and social workers that rounded the work, spoke to me in a different way. All are people whom I could see myself having lively conversations with and whose actual work I could support.
I read it on the ground and in the air between Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Sacramento before at last being conveyed by my good friend and Maid of Honor to the DoubleTree for a week-long conference for my new job as a Community Education Coordinator for our local rape crisis center. The trip, as well as the purpose, reminded me a lot of being in college again. The flight as well as the hotel stay reminds me of attending the Urbana conference in Saint Louis, Missouri when my Christian faith was fervent and stoked with the fuel of other young men and women who believed our faith could change the world. Though now my issue is more focused on the temporal, more specified on ending specific acts of violence, though I’m alone in my hotel room instead of bunking with three other girls, it feels like I am relying on faith all over again.
Maybe we can–not save the world–but change the world. Two days into this conference, which offers options on using social movements to end power-based personal violence, I am starting to dare to believe that there might actually be something significant I can do. If, after implementing these things, I can see even small-scale results, I’ll know that it was worth my time.