December 3, 2020

The Butterfly Effect of Social Activism

This blog post was authored by Avery Krantz-Fire, a member of the Tivnu 7 cohort from Stanford, California. In his free time, he enjoys playing guitar, going for walks, and chaotically trying out new recipes. He interns at Our Children Oregon and Tivnu construction.

It is 10:30 am on a Monday morning. I have been working on this spreadsheet for an hour and a half, and I can feel my eyes wanting to slowly drift away.

It is 10:30 am on a Tuesday morning. I run my fingers over the piece of wood I am de-nailing, looking for any nails I may have missed. I tighten the strings of my hoodie. Check my watch. Still a ways to go before lunch time.

In a way, my two internships couldn’t be more different from each other, but as time goes on I see more similarities between them. They both make a positive impact in the world’s bigger picture, but it’s not always easy to see how in the moment.

Wednesday afternoon, I scroll through the news. Thursday, I scroll through a PDF of statistics about youth in foster care. Friday, on the way home from a cold day of construction, I see the tents lining the underpasses along the South Waterfront, and ask Erik, how much do those really protect against the elements?

My mind drifts onto a song lyric, one that’s been stuck in my head a lot recently:

“I’ve gotta find a way to make this feel okay/when rock bottom for me is routine, for someone else” –Taking Care of Things, Cavetown

Looking at all of the injustice and brokenness in the world can feel like that, when the more I learn makes me just that much more aware of all that I cannot do; at least not by myself.

While it can be invigorating and incredibly rewarding, social justice work is not always fun and rarely easy for me. In many ways I am trying to de-center myself in the work I am doing: attempting to focus less on my own personal emotions and guilt and more on how to lift up the voices of others. However, I keep coming back to an important question that many activists are asking these days: What do I need to keep going? What do we need as a community?

I try to think of it as part of an assembly line. I de-nail a board, and my friends use it to build an apparatus for the new solar panels at the Old Town Village, one of the houseless communities we work with. I organize a spreadsheet with the contact information for Our Children Oregon’s legislative concept partners, and a colleague uses it to reach out to them to get their concept submitted, concepts that could do things like getting legislation passed to ensure mental health care in Oregon public schools. I know the small things need to be done so that the big ones can be, but in reality, it is all both infinitely small in the grand scheme of the world, and unimaginably large in the grand scheme of the butterfly effect.

And I couldn’t do any of it alone. Perhaps it is less of an assembly line and more of a structure where every beam holds up every other one, all relying on each other to stay upright. 

I wake up to another day of doom-scrolling down my Google news feed, but I open my email to find a “thank you” from my OCO supervisor for my work from yesterday. I spend the day de-nailing again, but this time we’re at the Old Town Village, working directly with the residents to help improve their living space. It feels different to see the wood being used as we finish it; more direct. These moments are the pushes I need to keep going, to keep doing this work that I know inside is so important.

And maybe for me, it is the in-between moments that will move me forward. The ability to push through boredom or frustration is a building block for the work I am doing, and also for my own future as an activist and community member. Learning how to stay connected and work in a way that is sustainable is an essential skill in any type working to improve the world, and I am so grateful that Tivnu is giving me real, hands-on experience with this complex balancing act. I needed to find a community where social justice and mutual support were both important values, in order to move past my overwhelm at all that is wrong with the world, and to actually be able to take action. I have found so much joy in co-creating that community here.

So I will wake up again tomorrow, to a world that is still broken, but with the flutters of healing renewed and back within my sight, built up from a million tiny moments of humble beauty.

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