Earlier in the week, I planned to write about volunteering as a way to bond with loved ones during the holidays. Some people close to me grappled with what to give me for Christmas since I don’t want stuff. When I told them I just wanted to do good in the community together, I saw their shoulders loosen with the thought of such a simple and meaningful gift.
Then, in the early hours of November 9, 2016, our world shifted in a way that makes helping others more critical than ever. Our neighbors in need are in urgent crisis now, and service must move to the top of our priorities. We need to reach out now, not after the laundry is done. We need to help today and every day, not as some warm fuzzy holiday activity.
As we reel from the shock of our nation’s decision, the most immediate concern is the shift in our collective culture. Half of our nation proclaimed their violent fear of anyone different. 50% of our neighbors pushed their ugly prejudices into the light. Micro-aggression and closeted anger bubbled up and exploded in an abusive and proud public pronouncement of hate. I have already experienced the heavy thumb of sexism weighing me down more than usual. In the first hours of our new nation, I didn’t just see sexism on social media, I had conversations with people championing misogyny.
I’m lucky because these conversations, while crushing, were few. Most people I talked to resolved to come together, help others, and stay strong. In a way, I’m also lucky because I have learned to confront sexism in my daily life. When I was 10 and my teacher announced sheepishly that, even though I was more qualified, she had to choose a boy for our mock city’s bank president so as not to hurt his feelings, I was confused and shocked. As I encountered this sentiment throughout the work world, I learned how to stand up for myself.
That same year, I experienced sexual aggression for the first time, too. The offensive comment and nearly imperceptible grope still reverberates decades later. When I realized that experience wasn’t just a fluke, I hurt. When I learned that almost every other woman has experienced something similar, I seethed. It took a long time, but I learned to protect myself.
I’m lucky because I have support and I have found strength. Today, I worry about the women and girls who don’t have a support network. For many, the shift in public sentiment is ideologically crushing. For some, this choice we made could actually destroy them. There are abusers in our nation who see this as carte blanche to keep beating and raping, living up to the example set forth by our president elect.
If I am already experiencing increased sexism from my position of privilege, what is happening to victims of ongoing assault at home? How much scarier is their abuser today?
How does it feel to be a victim of human trafficking now, not just objectified and oppressed, but actually bought and sold? There are many people in our nation who already have so few rights. What more can we take from them? We made a choice that could truly kill these smart, caring humans. They deserve more.
Now, Christmas is too long to wait to add more volunteer hours to my schedule. Instead of talking in circles and feeling hopeless, I am acting now. I feel like the lives of the most marginalized depend on it. Working with victims of rape and human trafficking are definitely high on my list, but the total list of people we need to protect feels overwhelming.
When looking for opportunities to help, start with what you know. Anyone who has survived prejudice has a special strength that can help those still struggling. Our experiences provide a natural road to empathy and also potentially lifesaving tools. I think of all my LGBT friends who have fought to find communities to celebrate and lift them up. Then, I think of confused and ostracized gay youth in small towns in the deep south. They need strong advocacy from people who can guide them to safety. We all need to volunteer for support hotlines in the most hostile parts of our nation to help all of our LGBT citizens.
Friends told me about Hispanic students crying at their desks all day, not because of the heart wrenching symbolism of a proposed wall, but because they may actually lose someone they love. Living in Colorado for almost a decade, I learned just how hard it can be to get documentation. Some of the best and brightest people I met, with a dizzying list of skills and talents, couldn’t get the legal right to work. Migrant workers and new immigrants need our help more than ever.
Many of my friends feel an urge to escape, seeking asylum in Canada or overseas because the weight of oppression and hate is too much to bear. I say use that sentiment to help refugees fleeing countries completely decimated by hunger and war. Stand your ground here and make room for those fleeing for their lives.
If we hopelessly let this happen to us, everyone’s quality of life will suffer. For some, it will be painful and depressing, for others, those already barely hanging on, it will be deadly. I’m not talking about potential policy change, I’m talking about the immediate impact of our nation’s sanctioning of outward and aggressive prejudices. Who knows what the coming months will bring. Right now we know that our most marginalized residents need us more than ever.
When looking for new volunteer opportunities, Volunteer Match is a great place to start. Often, non-profits are in such desperate need of help that they don’t update their calls for volunteers on the site regularly. I use the site to find non-profits and then go directly to that organization’s website to contact them about ways I can help. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and everyone will be receptive to your offer of support.
More than ever, I want my family and friends to give me the gift of helping others together. Even in a situation so dire and urgent, serving others is a soothing balm for sadness and fear. Helping is empowering for all. Despair, worry, and complaining won’t improve our world. Action will. I think our time means more than our money and signatures. When we reach out to those in need, we actively build community. The statistics we read about become our living, breathing friends. We learn how much we receive just by giving.
We can affect change one person at a time. When I lived in Denver, homelessness was right on my doorstep every day. Of course, I advocated for improved community resources, but I set out to ease the discomfort of the people right in front of me first. As I handed out sandwiches and socks daily, I made so many new friends. I learned how easy it is to suddenly have nowhere warm to go. Former business owners gave me solid advice for my fledgling shop, and toys and other gifts for Eloise started appearing on my doorstep. Community happens when we realize the people we assist are helping us just as much as we are helping them.
I’d love to see comments about organizations in need of help. Please share your experiences and knowledge here. If you live near me, I hope we can give each other the gift of helping together.
We are powerful when we unite. A few days ago, half of our nation united in hatred, but we don’t have to let them win. We can counter their hostility and unite in kindness. We can stand together, build community, and strengthen our grieving nation.