I have a decision to make. In, like, two days, and I have been thinking about it for months without coming to any conclusion. That decision is whether or not to do electoral work this fall. Really, it is a small decision: What will I get paid to do during September and October of this year?
Either I will continue doing what I am doing now, or I will switch over to campaign organizing through the first week of November. I don’t know what this would actually entail, but I can guess. Surely there will be canvassing. There will be phones and voter registration cards, but I am being asked to sign on to principle and let the particulars fall where they may.
If I decide not to, am I punking out on social change? On my walk home, I think of a word: dread
My three months in Kolkata. Every weekday morning we went to volunteer. And every morning that I waited for the car to pick us up, I dreaded going. Every morning: I had to go again and greet those little girls, those teenage girls, those young women with their their dead, poor, sometimes unknown mothers, their faces full of joy and life, their smiles and their dances, their sadness, and face the yawning meaninglessness of my own comfortable life. My impotence to change anything. The fact that whatever purpose I served by passing through their lives, they would possibly never stand in a hot shower on a cold winter morning.
And every single day of my life as a foreign English teacher in Korea, I got out of bed with dread. I went in to school early so that I could make my instant coffee and have time to sip it before my class. But the whole half hour, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the clock, dreading that 8 o’clock would arrive and I would have to stand in front of a classroom of girls and run a dubiously useful lesson—again.
Then the lesson would end, and I’d go back to my desk and dread the next class, even if things had gone well. I dreaded that my mother would die of cancer while I was away and that it would turn out to be the worst decision of my life to go, to stay.
What a dark way to look back on the whole experience—one that was also full of smiles and reward and humor—but still feels more like something survived than something lived.
I can imagine my life if I answered this progressive call to arms: waking up every morning with dread in my mouth and crusted around my bloodshot eyes.
I’m sure I could survive two months of it, I’m sure I would do well enough, and I’m sure it would be worthwhile. I would make new friends, and though I wouldn’t do much else, I would be able to say that my work reflected my values and that it was worth doing.
I could do something I hate for a purpose greater than myself.
As much as I try to bring it back to the real issue at hand—doing a job—and the purpose—getting Democrats in office—it feels like a form of self-mutilation. And the people I know who are organizers, who excel at this, I drink with them at the bar and just wonder at how different the stuff is that we are respectively made of.
They tell smilingly stories of things that I am sure would have made me crazy. What do you mean that you ran your office out of a Wendy’s and that you’ve been living on other people’s couches for months?
Right now, I’m doing a job that I do not dread every morning. Unlike teaching, unlike volunteering, in this job I can sublimate my need for tangible meaning into the pieces of paper I produce—newsletters and brochures, annual reports and e-mail alerts—which seem to matter to people.
I hate to give that up for that higher order of work in which you put your energy out into the world and don’t know what will come of it