Thursday, April 28, 2011

Activist Ambition (Skip this if you don't want to read about ALL MY FEELINGS.)

I was going to write a long post about how my finally being in a position to undertake the kind of community work I've always wanted to do has affected me. I feel like it's a subject I need to talk about at this point.

One particular group I'm working with right now has thus far been an amazing experience, but also difficult in certain ways. It's forced me to face my "shortcomings" (I use the quotation marks for a reason which will hopefully become clear shortly) in a way that is very uncomfortable for me. Specifically, I volunteered to be a "facilitator" for one of the committees involved in the project. I feel like I'm falling far short of what I should be doing in that role. I have very little experience in this area, and one of the other women involved with the project (who is the facilitator/coordinator for a separate committee) has been doing a lot of what I feel like should be my responsibilities. I feel like I'm letting people down. On bad days, I feel almost like a "placeholder," so the same person's name doesn't have to be at the top of two different committee lists.

To be clear: this isn't about my ego, or about wanting recognition for anything. This is about feeling like I volunteered for responsibilities that I'm horribly failing to meet, feeling like I'm letting everyone down and forcing someone who already has enough on her plate to pick up my slack.

Now, before you all start shaking your heads at me and bemoaning my attention whoring, self-deprecating, whiny bullshit, finish reading. I've been giving a lot of thought to why I feel this way. (Because it's not enough for me to have too many feelings, I also have to overanalyse all my feelings. It's what I do.) The way I phrased it to a friend a couple of weeks ago is still the most accurate: I feel like an imposter. I'm working with people who have all kinds of experience in this area, and I just don't have that. I'm surrounded by people who have a grip on the more academic or technical aspects of activist work, and all I am is a single mom who's spent the past ten years (while the rest of the group has been getting educations and experience in this type of work) busting my ass to survive and raise my son on my own. I have an absurd amount of intellectual potential, but actually knowing how to do shit like grant writing? HA. It's been a struggle every minute.

Right as I was opening this browser tab, getting ready to write a long, whiny post about how shitty I feel about myself, I saw something on a friend's Facebook that I think I really needed. She said, "Raising kind boys is also a political act, yes?"

That's when it hit me. I haven't been doing this kind of work for the last decade because I've been doing an entirely different kind: raising a son who will carry on my ideals. My son is intelligent, talented, passionate and caring. He is becoming the kind of person I would want the whole world to be. I've been living the situations that my colleagues have been trying to fix: poverty, single (teen) parenthood, surviving sexual assault, living with mental illness. My activism has been in my survival, in my refusal to "fall in line." My intelligence and strength show in my personal growth, in the woman that I've become against all odds. My feminism is not academic: it's lived.

There are things I don't know. That is a difficult thing for me to admit: I hate not being good at everything I do the first time I do it. I have some weird hangups about the learning process. But I am aware that I do have something valuable to contribute to social causes: I have passion, intelligence, and a willingness to learn. And with the rest of it, I hope the people who matter can understand that we've had a different set of opportunities and experiences, and continue to be patient with me.