Advocacy Social Commentary

Is it Sustainable?

This past spring, I left my job working at SFUSD to “follow my bliss”: being a mom, school volunteer, writer, parent organizer. This shift in my public identity from “working” mom to “stay-at-home” mom has been, shall we say, interesting. “So, how are you enjoying all your free time?” one of my former colleagues asked? As if being a stay-at-home mom was like going on vacation. :/

The reality is, any time I have gained has only been replaced with more school or household projects, more involvement in meetings and committees, and facing the back-log of deferred maintenance on my life.

If you have been a regular reader of my blog, you will know that this past year I recovered from six months of chemo. Being out of commission for this long with a husband and family can really get you behind. And now that I’m ALIVE, the internal pressure to do good, catch up, make a difference feels like a gift and a burden all at the same time.

At a time when I am trying to balance healing myself with giving back, the events surrounding the Black Lives Matter Movement have made me feel a need to be even more active in the social justice movement. At times, I have felt helpless watching protests and marches, knowing I can’t participate. Writing here, has been an outlet. Nonetheless, it feels too complacent. Following young Twitter activists has reignited the fire I felt in my twenties to disrupt the status quo. That said, if this past year has taught me anything, it’s that I need to take care of myself first. Because, if I don’t it’s not just my world that will fall apart. My husband and children rely on me. There is no one who can replace me in their lives, and if I’m not around… well… that just can’t happen.

Because of my responsibility and commitment to helping my family get back on it’s feet after last year, I can’t fly off to St. Louis (believe me, I have wanted to). Because my daughters spent a year worrying about me dying, I can’t bring my kids to protests against police brutality; talking about Tamir Rice or Eric Garner or Mike Brown is just too emotionally complicated. I can’t bring them to a Die In because just the mention of death brings tears to their sweet soulful eyes.

So, this question has been troubling me. “How can I stay engaged in the movement for social justice in a meaningful AND sustainable way?”

When you ask, the Universe answers…. Sometimes through Twitter 🙂

So, today, I found a great writer named Lisa Factora Borchers who wrote about the same topic on her Tumblr feed.  It hasn’t necessarily given me the answers I’m looking for, but it has reaffirmed for me that I’m asking the right questions.

I am so thankful she has given me permission to re-blog her post below. Please check it out, see how it feels for you and let me know what you think in the comments below. (If you want to know more about Lisa Factora Borchers and her other writings, follow her on Twitter, and Tumblr.)


by Lisa Factora Borchers

I’ve identified as an activist for over two decades.  I’ve marched, organized, signed petitions, civilly disobeyed the law, edited an anthology on sexual violence, and even organized a book tour to have dialogues about community and #BelievingSurvivors.  But that’s all changing now and, truthfully, need a new path of living a life of true love which embraces resistance & challenging systematic oppression.

Grace Lee Boggs, a revered 99 year old Asian American icon of civil rights activism, asks a simple question about activism, “Is it sustainable?”  If it’s not sustainable in practice, it is not worth giving your life.  I’m entering a deeper part of my activist life where I want to be in practice, not experimentation.  As a parent, I don’t and can’t do evening meetings or hastily laid plans with no childcare options.  As a feminist, I don’t work with messianic leadership obsessed with generalities and unchecked privileges.  As a spiritual person, I believe in the essential placement and using the tool of anger, but not blinding, constant rage.

What do I want to give my life to? Two things: Love. And Writing.  I can describe both objectives in the same manner.  Love and writing both require a lifelong commitment to growth through self-discomfort in hopes of challenging and resisting systematic powers which oppress marginalized bodies and communities while circumventing our true spiritual and creative genius.

Love and writing reverse these influences.

So… what’s my answer?

Whatever you do, whether it be signing petitions, marching in protests, writing blog posts, attending meetings or organizing teach-ins… do it with love.

Here’s some inspiration for you: “This St. Louis Community Created an Art Project From Its Boarded Up Windows,” by Byron Kerman.

Related reads: Call for Family-Friendly Resources: Addressing Racial Equity with Young ChildrenTomorrow! Tiny Teach In: Families Reclaim MLK Day

How do you balance work, family, life and fighting for positive social change? How do you stay engaged in the social justice movement in a meaningful AND sustainable way?

2 thoughts on “Is it Sustainable?

  1. Alison, I just read a book called the Power of Habit where one of the sections talked about what made the civil rights movement take off when none of the others had. One of the reasons was because it had to be sustainable. And it became that way when nonviolent protests became the norm. Suddenly people felt an identity to a movement that they can own and organize themselves. It wasn’t just the top leaders doing everything anymore—everyone can self-organize and be their own leaders among themselves.

    On another note, I just read your post about your chemo treatment. I didn’t know this about you, and it does totally suck that you had to go through that! I admire your bravery and can’t imagine the emotions whirling through you during that time. Life can be so precarious.

    And what timing. I just lost an aunt this week after a six year battle with cancer. The message I’m learning constantly (even if I’m not always perfect with it): enjoy the moment. Let the little things go.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments. They remind me of watching Selma and seeing all the other leadership working together to make a change. At the same time the movie presents a conflict for MLK in serving “his people” and being there for his own family. Working the balance is something we are all faced with. I won’t ever say I’m feel lucky to have had cancer. That said, it does really help one clarify priorities. 🙂

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