Between Elections and Marches, All the Other Days – The Space for Real Transformation
I wish marching was enough, but it will not bring the social transformation we need. If we volunteer our time, money, or talent, we can impact thousands of people through social engagement, making real change.
I have had that deep feeling of needing to DO SOMETHING.
Once was when I was kind of new to NYC, and I was still traumatized by the violence back home. It was far from my first protest, but it was the first major one I participated in outside of my country of origin: it was local, but it was all over the world, people in the streets against a war that was changing our lives and the lives of Iraqis (and later Syrians) forever. I was hopeful for change: seeing so many people in so many cities standing up. I was so moved by own experience as part of the march that afterwards, I got a peace symbol tattooed inside my left wrist so I would always remember it.
But then, in the weeks that followed, the war still happened. Even though millions worldwide were against it, I realized how far we were from translating and channeling our energy toward a real change. That march was a very important day for so many of us, and I felt so passionate about it – but it also taught me that if it didn’t translate to my daily life, it wouldn’t work as a means for change.
I know that now, we’re feeling moved to help the children through protesting this brutal policy. It is one of those moments when we need to DO SOMETHING.
Let’s reflect for a moment on the space and time after Trump got elected. Like my own experience with Iraq, many people were moved to join the Women’s March or post on social media awareness of the issues of our time. This is important, this brings us together, this shares our common values. But it isn’t going to bring about the transformation that we need, that we were hoping for when we joined the march. We will, inevitably, get back to our work and our families and our lives, not translating this critical and massive energy into the projects and commitments we need to make change.
I fully supported the Women’s March. I likewise applaud today’s Family Belongs Together rally. However, if even 5-10% of those who march or rally will, afterwards, commit to creating new realities through building individual commitments, it will accumulate to a new social structure that is transparent, accountable, and grounded in values, creating results. The transformation is between us and the people we care about, it is about consistent change every day that starts with our repeated, individual actions, not waiting for marches.
Here is what this looked like in my experience, as only one of millions of examples: I talked to as many different people from as many different places, cultures and perspectives as possible. These talks changed and opened my mind. I decided to do a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution instead of becoming a doctor. I became part of organizing different movements around causes that moved me. I began leading workshops for how to make change. I had the privilege of working with hundreds of young leaders – activists, change makers, UN fellows, Columbia University students – and from these experiences, I began to work with others to build the fabric that supports ongoing change in our society in the long term, growing the support systems that allow leaders to have continual nourishment and ongoing impact.
I know this is possible – not as magic, but as the time and space behind the Election cycles and between the marches – where our life happens, where we cultivate who we are. It needs to becomes *ordinary.* We eat, we work, we spend time with our friends, we exercise: we do something for a cause in which we believe. Not maybe. An integral part of our days.
So, what can we do?
A short list:
- Capture your energy and that of your friends – have a collective commitment to action rather than intention. You have a workout buddy, right? Same spirit. Plan to support a social cause with your time, talent or money and keep accountable through someone who will hold you to it.
- Criticize by creating an alternative (be that alternative, or support someone else’s efforts). When you sit down to rant on social media, decide to take the energy elsewhere instead. Take a workshop on leading change (with me, or with any of the wonderful people who want to help you channel your energy into doing this important work), find a place to volunteer, or support someone doing this work in your community. Be a part of growing a cadre of changemakers.
- Mentor someone. Do you have a talent in this area? Show a young leader the way. Volunteer your time, money, or energy directly to investment in a young leader for their (and our collective) long term development. We need to create layers of support systems: education far beyond a two day workshop and funding far beyond a one time donation.
Change takes time, and needs a design. It starts with individuals, but ends with communities keeping it going. Think about the March for Our Lives: young people created this, cultivated this and communicated this – but they are also working diligently and daily to keep this issue present and prominent. We need the patience to institutionalize social cause leadership as part of the infrastructure of our lives. This support system happens when each of us gives our time, talent or money on a routine basis to cultivate the generations growing up with this polarization with the support they need to channel THEIR desire to do something into creating the realities we all want, and need.