Tending to Social Justice as a Garden
Community love takes patience, persistence, and long-term perspective
Despite pollen, I love spring. Our little house sits on a small yard, almost no grass. The rock-lined paths and mulched areas already overtaken by weeds, sprouting acorns, and creeping vines.
Today I decided to pull up what I can, and to not overdo. To pull out patience with the wheelbarrow: this work will take a while.
The less-than-glamorous task of weeding is a good metaphor to doing the work of love. Sounds strange: the work of love. Yet, love is work. Whether for a person or a group of people whose inequitable rights and welfare stir you to plant some seeds of action. First, prepare the ground.
If you’re just coming into social justice work or thinking about becoming more involved, these four points (grown from my own reality) may be helpful:
- Expect to pull a lot of weeds and enjoy whatever’s blooming (or budding) in the present moment.
I’m involved in two small non-profits. Weeds of resistance (some community voices oppose the work we do) but also weeds of disorganization — and sometimes contention — within. Take time to celebrate what you are able to contribute and the small wins of your collective.
- Sometimes, it’s overwhelming. Start somewhere.
Go to an event, a rally, a monthly meeting. And don’t think you don’t matter because you’re new to an organization or a cause. The best allies are are humble, yet brave enough to say, I’d like to help; what can I do?
- Do something, even if it’s making name tags or bringing a friend to a second meeting.
Some weeks, I can only edit press releases and other social media posts. At other times, I can help lead events and trainings. You don’t have to prove your worthiness by overdoing.
- Once you begin, you’ll notice how some things are not as hard as you thought, but usually they are more so.
Top reasons why people drop out of community love work is they burn out, they get discouraged (by lack of progress), or frustrated about dysfunction within the group they support.
When you can only see the weeds, remember:
- Take time for internal love work. Rest, recharge, and remind yourself that you are doing important work.
- When discouraged, think of the movement as a tender child. Would you give up on your child, niece or friend? Did everyone give up on you when you were struggling? Love takes patience and trust.
- When things aren’t working, speak up respectfully. After you’ve put in some time (I recommend a year at least) and built relationships, ask your leader if they would like your feedback. If not, perhaps you find another organization to support; if so:
- Don’t only express the negatives. Highlight what you appreciate about their leadership and the progress that’s been made. Express that you, like them, want to be part of the solution.