I just returned from a week of organizing in Chicago. I was working to be educate the public about media reform issues in Chicago in the lead up to the 5th of 6 FCC hearings on media ownership. This was a rare opportunity for the public to talk directly to the people who make the rules, speaking truth to power. More than 800 people attended the public hearing and more than 200 people signed up to speak.
It was an enthralling and exhausting week. Most days I worked between 12 and 16 hour days going to meetings, facilitating workshops, working with activists on turn out and helping them write their testimony. I ate when I could, and often this meant grabbing a muffin at a local coffee shop, or a sub at a mini mart. At night, when we wrapped up our various activities for the day, my colleagues and I would head out to what ever place still served food after 11pm, usuallya bar of some sort, and had a late dinner of whatever we could get – often something fried.
This got me thinking – why is it so hard to eat well while trying to do good. I know a lot of activists who work long hours and treat food as no more than fuel – low grade fuel at that. All the while we bemoan the lifestyle, constantly talking about how much more effective we would be if we drank a little more water and a little less coffee, or found a local market instead of a generic grocery, or ate a salad at 6pm instead of a burger at midnight. And yet, this stuff is so rarely prioritized. It is all about the work.
I think at first, idealizing and simplifying the situation, that it is just a matter of caring more about the people we are working with than about ourselves. But that is just self congratulatory garbage really. I have read enough economists and ecologists to know that the communities I work in would be better off if we bought local and organic foods, supporting local businesses and keeping some small amount of pollution out of the air and soil. I know this now – sitting comfortably at home, but I don’t know it when it matters most.
Understanding this calls on me to reframe what it means to do the work of social justice. It calls on me to understand that this work consist of more than what I am doing, but also how I am doing it. The choices I make – where I eat, and how I eat – are actions, potentially as powerful and substantive as the workshop I am late for or the meeting I have scheduled. I need to understand that organizing is not solely about my work with others, but demands me to work on myself, training my own mind, shaping my own actions.
I think now of the cliche – you can’t be loved, if you don’t first love yourself. Perhaps this too often cited phrase could be reworded: You cannot create healthy communities if you yourself are not healthy. Then again, perhaps Ghandi has already suggested this, reminding us that we must be the change you wish to seein the world.
*Image by Craig van der Lende – look for a blog entry soon with more of his photgraphs