A few months ago I was involved in planning a rally in Buffalo. Frustration over President Trump’s anti-Muslim legislation pushed a small group of creative, generally relaxed people to prove that the people of Buffalo were welcoming of the refugee families starting over in our city.
For logistical reasons the rally never happened. We were passionate, but our strengths lay in other areas other than navigating political systems.
A few weeks later I started tutoring four sisters from Ethiopia through Journey’s End Refugee Services. I’d been waiting for months to actually interact with refugees and help in the ways I knew I could, and I started to wonder if the failed rally was as terrible as it seemed.
Peaceful protests can be an effective way to thrust important issues into American consciousness. But eventually, especially in today’s world, there’s a time when protesting and rallying and typing angry tweets isn’t enough, and quite simply, outrage is wearying.
I learned a lot from organizing the rally-that-never-happened, particularly that passion, even empathy, aren’t always enough. I have both in spades, and I have to believe there’s a purpose for that – why shouldn’t emotion be the catalyst to action?
I had the privilege of attending a speech given by Bernice King a few months ago. Out of all of the inspiring things she said, this in particular struck me; “Resistance without strategy is futile. You need a plan because eventually, rage wears off.”
I think this is particularly important when examining America’s role in the refugee crisis. Picture this – you’ve fled everything you ever knew, have probably lost friends or family members, or both, and have spent years in limbo, hoping that an extreme vetting process will eventually let you into a foreign country. Of course, you don’t know the language or culture of this country and might be afraid that the community you’re in will be unwelcoming because of your beliefs.
What would you rather see? TV broadcasts with faceless masses protesting government legislation, or individuals welcoming you and caring for you in practical, effective ways?
I can’t help but think that I’m doing more good by spending time with refugee girls – learning their preferences, what their dreams are and the culture they came from than shaking my fists at the government. We can all use our talents; writing articles that humanize the oppressed, donating or mentoring or tutoring to demonstrate that our commitment to change and equality remains even when the political atmosphere defies it and the dust of rage settles.