The Emotional Challenge of Engagement

On day 15 of my #30daysofaction, I’m taking stock, reflecting on the work I’ve done and recommitting to the next 15 days. I am deeply relieved that I have made this commitment because it’s difficult and I see how easy it would be to turn away. My mind and body are looking for escape, to turn away from the news. I wish I could not read the letters mothers write from detention or the legal statements made by attorneys, immigrants, and non-profit leaders about the trauma of family separation or the lasting trauma separated children face because of our government’s policies. But, I can’t. Yes, because I’ve committed to engaging for 30 days. But, more, because we should all remain attentive. We must continue to pay attention to the cruel immigration policies that inflict terror on people seeking refuge in our country and on the daily policy changes and directives that are seeking to reorient the norms of our country.

So, in thinking back on the last 2 weeks, it’s important for me to note that just being engaged – reading deeply and with empathy – feels like taking action; it is hard and requires commitment. In general, taking action every day feels harder than I thought it would. Have I been so apathetic that any form of engagement is difficult? Or, is it because I have made this commitment and decided to make public my actions that I feel I must do something new and meaningful each day?

Perhaps most difficult of all is finding and maintaining a sense of optimism or hope. Last week’s action of marching in one of thousands of #FamilliesBelongTogether events was a comfort. It was a reminder that many of us are moved to action over this issue. It was a reminder that communities can come together to amplify our voices and say no, we are better than this. And while the strength and scale of these marches serves as a marker for American opposition to the inhumane policies of this administration, it does not reunite families separated across state – or national – borders. It does not give these children back the security of their parents. It does not shift the needle on so many other policy changes, reversals, and assertions that denigrate immigrants, deny people their rights, and assert chaos in the world.

And yet, what kind of action could do that? I admire all of the people running for office – who maintain faith and optimism that we can still move in the right direction. But, I am not feeling so optimistic.

Today, on July 4, I am looking for comfort in the ideals of this country and in the long history of actions that “bends toward justice.”[1]  I recommit to the next 15 days of action and will continue to struggle with the difficulty of being an engaged citizen; of fighting for progress and supporting those who do so on the ground in so many different ways. I am open to new modes of action and will continue to seek ways to do so with greater impact.

Thus far, my actions have consisted of: (1) Reading and listening to new voices. Going well beyond the headline and tracing ideas and policies to scholarly or primary documents; (2) Marching in the Santa Cruz #FamiliesBelongTogether protest with my family to teach my daughter that democracy looks like collective action; (3) Sending material goods to Texas through the Religious Action Committee (connected to the Reform Judaism movement). This includes engaging my local community to collect more materials to send; (4) Donating small amounts of money to a range of organizations. I have given both to those I have long supported and a number of new organizations. I’m listing the organizations I’ve supported thus far below.

On reflection, I can see how this giving history mirrors my political and personal priorities: I have long felt committed to working through Jewish organizations and to giving related to refugees. In the wake of the 2016 election and the legal challenges to the Muslim Ban, I began supporting ACLU and continue to do so now. In the last 2 weeks, I have contributed to a number of new organizations as well – those on the ground along the US/Mexico border who are working with asylum seekers to get a fair hearing, understand and navigate the immigration system, find their children, or settle into new lives. And, I have been contributing to media organizations that hold the government as well as the media industry accountable.

In the weeks ahead, will I continue to support these organizations and likely find others to support. I will also seek ways to find inspiration more regularly – there are so many people doing good, active, bold, and meaningful work. And, it’s essential to find light in this darkness.

Donations made since starting #30daysofaction




[1] Martin Luther King, “Where Do We Go From Here” speech, delivered August 16, 1967, Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta.