Last weekend, I got the unique opportunity to spend time back at my alma mater (was graduation really that far off now?) at the Queer Dreams and Non-Profit Blues Conference. I've been writing about the experience in terms of the knowledge that I took away from it -- which you can read soon on the Barnard Center for Research on Women blog -- but I wanted also to talk about the emotions of that space.
I get easily excited by new ideas, especially when people are willing to continue the conversation during breaks and over lunch. Yet I definitely was more conscious than ever about being included or excluded in that space. Was I a part of it or was I just observing? This question comes up again and again in my activist work: where is the faint grey line between being part of a movement and standing next to it? What does the movement even look like nowadays?
Since the conference was centered around non-profits and whether they really serve our communities, I was extremely conscious of how I -- having worked in non-profits only for a brief time -- had believed they were ultimately a good solution to creating social change under US capitalism. I had heard before from disillusioned workers about the ways that the non-profit world was just "capitalism on broken legs," but the message didn't really sink in. Then the stories came rolling in. Unpaid internships and paper-pushing temp positions. Low stipends and extended hours. The tyranny of "experience." Suddenly, non-profits didn't look so rosy.
But community-based organizing runs into the same problems of requiring people to do social change work "in their off time." In between the day job and the family and going back to school. There lies that unanswered question: do you have to give up all that to devote yourself to the movement? Do you run yourself ragged trying to hold it all together? I have been fed the idea that movements are big masses of people all reaching for the same goal, but outside of Occupy, I have seen nothing like that recently.
I got to listen in on conversations that seemed as fabulous as they were romantic -- art projects I wanted to be a part of springing up for less money than I pay in rent. I felt inspired. And then I felt like I wasn't doing enough. Standing on the outside looking in at all the people I believed were doing more and greater work than myself, I felt both hungry and full. Hungry for the experience of creating something meaningful and full of satisfaction that I had the opportunity to be in that space where people were striving for more.
But I don't mean to make it seem like all my feelings were positive. I felt uneasy as I thought to how few spaces there are, outside and inside the conference, to address the work I want to be doing. As this week, my friend and I begin to revive my Asian American social justice website, As[I]Am, everything feels like it's in unexplored territory. Where is it going and how do I get there? And yet, as I see it take shape, I start to feel that same excitement -- even though I don't have the answers yet, wherever we're headed, it's certainly better than here.