by Robert C. Bordone
The present moment is one of deep uncertainty and fear for many in our local Harvard Law School community and in the nation and world-at-large. There is, of course, the palpable fear that students of color, immigrant students, LGBTQ students, and Muslim students face as the tides of xenophobia and institutionalized racism grow ever stronger. There is, of course, the prospect of dissolution of the international system. There is an assault on press freedoms and a corroding of age-old institutions, which, while imperfect, nonetheless urged restraint, reason, and a consideration of the collective good. And there is, of course, the endangered fate of a planet besieged by climate change, war, and mass migration of peoples.
These realities elevate existential questions for many in the HLS community and beyond about what we are each called to do and how we might be politically engaged to do our part and make a difference at this critical moment.
With weekly marches to join, habeas petitions to write, donations to make, ride share apps to add and drop, calls to place to elected officials, and community organizing to be pursued, it’s easy to feel pulled, pushed, dizzied and exhausted.
At base, it seems, the essential question so many of us are asking is – what should my role in all of this be? What is my call?
I confess that I am no more certain of my role than friends, colleagues, neighbors, and student who look to me for guidance, advice, and support. When it seems that basic human dignity for all and the fate of our planet have never been more in question, it is difficult to know where to place my considerable but ultimately limited energy. In one moment I feel overwhelming outrage, in another I am in despair; at times I feel that I should be more involved in marches, and at other times I wonder if marches are the best use of the talents and propensities I have. And so I can feel clueless about where to take the next step and whether I can make any difference at all.
I have observed courageous and determined citizens, friends, students, neighbors asking themselves similar questions with a deep sense of disquietude. In the last week alone, many have sat in my office wondering:
What is my role in fighting for change in this particular moment?
I have an idea, but I don’t know where to start or whether it is realistic. Can I get your advice?
How do I know which march to go to, which dialogue to attend, which organization to donate to?
What would it mean to take time for quiet reflection and thinking through my long-term role in fighting for justice? Does it make me a bad person for reflecting when people’s lives are on the line in this very moment?
For many, these questions come along with a feeling that there is a right answer—that if they are truly dedicated to justice, then they should be marching in the streets or donating to the ACLU. That if their actions aren’t mirroring their activist friends on Facebook then they’re bad people, uncaring, not dedicated, part of the problem, not the solution.
I have found my thoughts and feeling pulled in this same direction at moments. I have noticed feelings of guilt and shame arise for me when I realize that I might not be as loud or as angry or as committed as others.
My worry in all of this is that our activism might become motivated by a need to be part of what others are doing—rooted more in a fad, the rage of the moment, of FOMO (fear of missing out), than from a place of deep conviction and calling that this is what I should be about in this moment.
Finding your voice in this moment, though, is different from jumping on the cronuts bandwagon or pre-ordering the new Samsung phone or the latest Apple watch. In this moment, our activism must be rooted in community and solidarity for sure; activism is not typically done in isolation.
But it is equally important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all and there are dangers to activism-as-passing-fad. So taking the time to listen to our voice, to assess our talents, our time, the calling we hear in this moment is necessary if our efforts are to be sustainable and impactful. For some, they belong in the streets; for others, their call is to reach across the aisle; for others, donations and prayers are their way of contributing.
It is with these questions swirling in my mind and the minds of many of my students, friends, and others in my community that I encourage you to consider to sit quietly, find your voice, and hear your own call in this moment. Take solace from the newly-awakened community of activism. But then find your place and your style.
The HNMCP blog has, in the past, been a place where we welcome and solicit entries from students, staff, and Harvard community members. And so we invite you, as you reflect on your own call, to consider writing short blog entries about the challenge of listening quietly and finding your own voice. We would like to open the blog up for people to write about their personal process in figuring out: what is your thing?
If you would like to submit your thoughts and reflections in writing, please contact us and let us know about your proposal for a piece. We welcome entries of any length and any form and will endeavor to print as many of these as we receive that relate to the topic of authentically examining what your personal call to activism, change, and justice is in this moment.