Monday, June 10, 2019

Relationships Are Why I Keep Going

An old advocacy question is popping up everywhere in my life with new urgency. "How do we keep doing our work without getting overwhelmed?" It was alarming to me when two women that I admire very much reached out to me about the same time from different parts of the country asking me how I managed to stay positive and inspired. Alarming because these two women are people admire and hold in my mind when things get rocky for me! Yesterday, as the CARE Action grassroots staff took the stage at the CARE Action Conference in Washington D.C., it was the very first question from an audience full of dedicated activists.

As I've wrestled with this question, I found it helpful that Maxine Thomas, friend and board member at RESULTS, had broken down that larger question into smaller questions. I found them easier to think about in chunks. I answered her questions for myself and noticed that my answers centered around a theme of "relationship":

What is your motivation? My relationship to my daughters and my desire to build a better world for them. My relationship to friends facing economic hurdles, loss of freedoms, and intolerance while I fear for their futures.
What slows you down? Being around people who are angry and negative in a non-productive way. As my fellow CARE advocate Megan Mayle shared today, "Anger is emotionally expensive." It takes a lot out energy out of me to hear people repeatedly complain without any intention of offering, searching for, or working toward solutions. I could be using that energy to take positive actions to create positive change.
What do you do to manage the things that plague you? Spend time with great people, so we can deepen relationships and inspire each other. I organize opportunities at my home where I invite activists I look up to and create positive things for us to do together. Last week, I hosted a "Renew, Connect, and Act" event where everyone could do two acts of gratitude (writing thank you's for staff of area non-profits for women's health and LGBTQIA issues), two acts of advocacy (writing to Congress about gender-based violence and women's health), and two acts of volunteerism (bringing potluck dinners to refugee families or serving in St. Louis communities hard hit by gun violence). I'm also always on the prowl for chances to meet new advocates I can learn from!

In fact, it is that last sentence that leads me to be at the CARE conference now.  I know that I'm making a lot of new connections that will hopefully grow into new friendships to inspire me throughout the year. Meeting new people who are taking a stand against human trafficking and child marriage is a real boost for me right now. As a bonus, I expect to see a few familiar faces of other change agents I admire on Capitol Hill tomorrow as Bread for the World and the United Nations Foundation volunteers are going to be there, too, sharing many of the same messages around protecting our poverty-focused foreign aid budget.

I'm especially buoyed by meeting advocates more toward the beginning of their journeys who are full of the same sort of energy and enthusiasm I had when I came to D.C. for the first time in 2007. Sharing laughs and long conversations with my Missouri lobby partner, Ally Melvin, amidst our serious legislative preparations has helped bring me back to a mindset before I started to feel burned out from a decade of working on the same problems. It helps me to remember that the problems are getting better. The budget requests we're working on are much higher than they used to be and making important progress. Since 2011, in countries where the US works with local and women farmers...
  • 23.4 million people have been lifted out of poverty
  • 5.2 million families no longer suffer from hunger
  • 3.4 million kids are free of stunting

Looking at the evidence of the impact of our work and helping someone else get on the path of activism has me feeling optimistic about the world. True, not everything is rosy and we have a lot of work to do. But as the Dr. Seuss' Lorax says:

UNLESS someone CAREs a whole awful lot
Nothing is going to get better. It's not!
So tell me...What keeps YOU going?