Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Volunteer Fair

Before attending the volunteer fair today, I mentally organized my priorities in selecting an organization.

The general issue I am most interested in is oppression as created by power relationships. Among these, I include racism, speciesism, classism, sizeism, ageism, colonialism, sexism and any prejudice of sexuality or identity; any relationship where one group of people is subject to the will of another group of people based on arbitrary differences. I would be proud to be a part of any of these movements, and I have some difficulty separating one out of the list to give special attention to (especially since I believe so fervently that they are all connected). However, recent events in my personal life, and the central role sexism has taken in this presidential election, and the far reaching implications I see in amendment 48 has made me feel that the women's rights movement in the U.S. is in danger of loosing ground, and as a believer in my own worth, and the worth of my mother, sister, grandmother, and all my fellow females, I feel I can give more of myself to these issues that are so close to home.

I want to find an organization that addresses at least some of the issues I feel are essential to women's rights: asserting our worth in our own words and terms (finding our voices, and challenging what others name as our value); claiming our bodies as our own, and combating instances of objectification, commodification, exploitation, and violence (and defining what these terms mean to us); breaking down binary oppositions of gender, both in the power structures they imply and the crude categorization of all people into simply defined, restrictive groups, encouraging women to form our own individual identities without regard to tidy categories and the expectations they carry with them. I believe these are the root issues in all feminist causes, and in combating all forms of oppression. In practice, I believe these issues are addressed through education, legislation, and community building.

I also revisited the last criteria I mentioned in my previous entry: to find a volunteer organization that allows me to use my current strengths while encouraging me to develop new skills and broaden my perspective. I believe my greatest strengths are my sensitivity, compassion, passion, and respect for people. I am also creative, insightful, analytical, and introspective. I believe I am very effective in communicating (especially in writing), and I believe I could be most helpful if given the opportunity to put this skill to use.

My greatest pitfall is my tendency to be paralyzed by anger. At these times, I desperately need another person to help me find my voice and direction again. I am hoping finding an organization with which to volunteer will assist me with this. Movement keeps me motivated. Stagnation makes me loose faith.

I want to find a position as an intern in order to experience the different aspects of an organization working for social change. What is vital to its functioning? What problems threaten it's existence? And how do they combat those problems? How do they interact with the community they serve, as a business, a service, and as partners in social change? And how do they identify the problems of their community? What root causes do they address and how? What symptoms do they address and why and how? How do they challenge themselves to become more effective? How do they implement innovation? How are they successful? How are they not as successful?

At the volunteer fair, out of the 70 or so organization present, the organization that spoke to me the most was Moving to End Sexual Assault . Their mission statement struck me immediately: "We believe that every person has a right to live free of sexual assault. We are moving to end sexual assault and the suffering it causes in our community. We challenge all forms of oppression and recognize their connection to sexual violence" [my emphasis]. I don't think any single sentence could have spoken to me more. Additionally, on the application, they asked not only that the applicant identify the connection between forms of oppression, but also that the applicant identify how they have personally benefited from a form of privilege. I have spoken on this topic many times, and I feel it is of great value to ask because refusal to acknowledge personal privilege is the failure to see the oppression of others.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Where I Begin

Growing up in my family, community service was a requirement. I never really connected it with any sense of personal pride, nor did I feel particularly inconvenienced by it. It was simply something that we were expected to do. It was a responsibility. I largely still agree with this mentality. Giving an hour or two a week to lend a hand in your community shouldn't be a rarity nor a pride boosting experience nor an act of repentance. Being a responsible member of your community should be like being a responsible member of your family: when you can help out, you should, recognizing that only when we all work together to make our communities strong and prosperous can we create an environment where all can thrive.

In my more recent experiences in the animal rights community, I have become more critical of the community service experiences of my youth. You see, within this large group of people all giving there time for the same general cause, there are divisions. Some of these divisions lie along ethical lines, some along questions of strategy, and still other divisions arise when we question if it is harmful to the movement to criticize other ethics and tactics within the movement or if constructive criticism within the movement is the best way to strengthen it. It is through observing these lines that I found I have different opinions than most of the animal rights organizations (and most of the activists) I have encountered, and it has made me question if I am being true to myself when I give my time to an activist group whose tactics I believe are imperfect at best, and counterproductive at worst. And certainly when an animal rights organization begins to show signs of racism, classism, and sexism, I see the vital importance of removing myself from their ranks and finding my own path as an animal rights activist.

As a child, the community service I participated in was blind. Of the hundreds of hours I gave, I can only connect a few activities to a particular cause and organization: I painted wooden animals to raise funds for "Heifer", I sorted and packaged school supplies for "Operation Back to School", and I asked for donations and stuffed envelopes for "Christmas Unlimited". I wasn't critical of the organizations, and I rarely knew which organization I was assisting. It just didn't seem important at the time; I had faith that all community service was good and all community service organization represented the needs of the community.

My experiences with animal rights groups have taught me differently.

I begin this journal with a new quest: to find a volunteer organization that has a strategy that I find productive, inviting, and progressive, doesn't further its aims through the strategic use of exploitation or oppression of any kind, treats root causes rather than symptomatic problems (the closer to the root the better), has an aim that I can feel passionate about, and allows me to use my current strengths while encouraging me to develop new skills and broaden my perspective.