We are born. We live. We love. We hurt. We reflect. We die. Perhaps there is a God in the sky who will shake our hands if we were nice, and perhaps if we were naughty he will kick us a burning curb. The best I can figure in the interim is to help bring peace and justice to those that I can. But how to go about this?
That’s where I get hung up. My colleagues and I are dolling out $40,000+/yr to learn how to be good social workers. Living in Philadelphia amidst rampant urban decay, poverty, homelessness and blatant inequality casts a certain amount of irony over our high minded discussions safely contained within the walls of an ivy-lined campus.
It’s something we all struggle with. How do we balance the benefit of a great education, lifelong connections, enlightening dialogue, and a chance to experience first hand the inequality pervading the city, with the reality that perhaps we could bring good to the world without Penn’s seal of approval, without singlehandedly keeping student loan companies in business?
We all undoubtedly do social good through the very fact that we contribute our time and efforts to various social organizations throughout the region, but there is a call we feel to do something more. It is hard to sit through classes and have tough discussions about racism, about sexism, poverty, welfare, healthcare, homelessness, elder abuse, child welfare, food insecurity, and the myriad of other issues that we do, and then go home at night to our warm beds.
And so some of us talk. We talk to each other about these feelings and our passion to do more. Some of us volunteer our time above and beyond our field placement requirements. Some of us insert random acts of kindness into our daily routines, and more likely all of us do some combination of all of these things.
One of the things I do is write. I feel compelled to share my ideas about the world, my passion for social justice. I feel hopeful that someone will stumble across my Action of the Day Page and say “hey, I don’t support executing people without evidence” and place a phone call, or “hey, torture isn’t cool” and sign a petition. I hope that someone will stumble across my Media section, and give second though to immigration laws, or will decide to engage in the political process. I hope that someone will read my “Policies for People” article and discuss these ideas with others.
But for all of these hopes and posts, I run the risk of becoming an Armchair Activist. When I go to a photo exhibit in Philadelphia about hunger in our city, and then walk home and heat up a bowl of soup, I run the risk of becoming an Activist in Theory. When I go to a Housing Conference, talk to people about homelessness, and go to sleep in the Hilton Hotel, I run the risk of mistaking words for action.
Perhaps I am being harsh on myself, and my fellow social workers, but the question is very real, and very relevant- Are we bringing good to the world, or are we Armchair Activists?
Asking this question is so important for all of us who believe in social change, in equality and justice, because it is so very easy to become jaded, to become burnt out, to have our exuberance stamped out by reality. And more importantly, we, I, must answer the question: What am I going to do today to make a difference?
I especially welcome comments from Sp2 students here. Also, please feel free to join the Sp2 Committee for Action