Today, I went to try and act in solidarity with my fellow New Jerseyans by volunteering with an organization I found through Occupy Sandy. I had felt bizarre being in Tucson, not a cloud in the sky, while Sandy was happening at home. My work in Tucson made me feel very strongly that I want to be more connected to organizing in the place where all my loved ones are – the Northeast. I wanted to be part of the community response to the Sandy: people coming together to fill in the gaps that FEMA and NJ/NY government disaster relief have left.
The organization I found was a church food pantry, not too far from my house, and I arrived asking what I could do to be helpful to them. A very nice woman who shares my name directed me back into the bowels of their warehouse, piled high with donations, and instructed me to start going through a table covered with toiletries, and draw a line with permanent marker through the UPC code (the barcode) on each item, to prevent their resale-ability
“Isn’t that terrible, that someone would try and take something they got from us back to the store for money? To sell it???” she asked indignantly.
Well, I thought to myself, No. If someone decides they need $4 more than they need a Lady Speed Stick, then they should go for it. Wouldn’t this time scribbling over a barcode be better spent finding out why people needed the $2 more than they needed a toothbrush?
I didn’t say anything. I hadn’t been there more than five minutes, and I didn’t know who these people directing me were, or how long they had worked at the food pantry, or whom they had worked with, or why they were there. I didn’t feel right then, like it was my place to call out or make judgments on their work. I also don’t and can’t go there day after day, and I don’t know the immediate community – I can’t commit to understanding the nuances of people who sell the goods they get from the food pantry. So I did the work they assigned me, figuring that if this is what it would take for the items to get into bags to go to people, I should just get it done.
But I feel like I should have said something, or at the very least asked a harder question and said it aloud, like, Do we really need to try to control what people do with the things we offer them? Is it our place to decide how they will best serve their own needs?
What would I have lost by giving voice to my thoughts? I didn’t want to make anyone feel angry. I was nervous about getting into a more involved conversation about politics and religion with people I didn’t know. And at the same time, it was an opportunity for me to create a discussion, and I passed it up.
I am all about giving myself room to feel safe, but this was a time where I felt acutely aware of the privilege I can hide behind that lets me err on the side of inaction.
And so I continue… learning and growing. Gotta act on love, act on collectivism, build solidarity networks, and hold myself accountable. Hold each other accountable. This is not a passive process.