A BLOG BY SHANNON FISHER
As most of you know, I became a women’s rights activist in 2012. I suppose I was what you’d call a free-lance activist last year, aligning with a variety of groups (which I still do) and working toward the cause of advancing women’s rights. I worked a bit with UniteWomen.org (then a fledgling women’s rights organization called Unite Against the War on Women) in 2012 in a state-wide capacity, but I was having some health challenges and the work proved to be too intense for me to make a continued commitment. So, I went about my way as a free-lance activist, contributing to the efforts of many local and national groups that were fighting the ultrasound and TRAP legislation in Virginia last year.
Then, in January of 2013 (as I continued to grow stronger physically), I was contacted by a women with whom I had worked closely leading up to the Unite Against the War on Women rallies (55 simultaneous women’s rights rallies in 45 states – I had worked on Virginia’s). The UniteWomen.org organization had organically and exponentially grown and was becoming a powerhouse of a national organization and network. They were building a national team to oversee the work in all of the state groups. She had been impressed by my work in Virginia and wanted me to be a part of their national team. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse: a chance to make a real difference by raising awareness and advocating for women on a national level. All of this work would be on a volunteer basis, of course – most human rights activism is, aside from a few longstanding national organizations who have established lobbying wings – but the knowledge that we are helping people and genuinely enacting change is all the payment most of us need.
Passion is what drives us, and it is also what sustains us when we grow tired. Some people think we are nuts to be devoting so much time to this cause – and we do often find ourselves exhausted. The work is intense and seemingly endless, but that is precisely why we do it! If there is a bottomless bin of work to be done to bring about social justice and equality for all, we need to step up and get it done! It isn’t just one cause. It isn’t just one organization. It isn’t just one method. And it isn’t just one goal. While many think of women’s rights as being all about reproductive choice, there are so many more women’s issues – and many other causes within the human rights arena – about which we are impassioned!
Gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status – all of these factors affect way the world views us, individually and collectively. And all of these factors spark fear, ignorance, hate and discrimination. There are many of us – in many different organizations with many different methods and just as many ideas – all working together to bring an end to a culture of divisiveness, contempt, obstruction, insolence, ignorance and disrespect.
We are a diverse community of activists seeking the end of the epidemic of rape, the profusion of domestic violence, a worldwide culture abetting violence against women, the human trafficking of young girls for sex trade, gender discrimination, economic inequality, lack of access to reproductive health services and dozens of other issues that desperately need our attention. We seek to end the injustice in the world stemming from discrimination, lack of equality, lack of respect and lack of access – and we are all working our tucchuses off to bring an end to the culture and practices that perpetuate these circumstances.
Behind the work that bonds us, and the passion that drives us, there is a palpable sense of understanding and acceptance. Within the activist community, there is a “come as you are” understanding. None of us is perfect, and nobody pretends to be. We do what we can, all working toward a common goal. We all are who we are – and that is all that we need to be. Everyone has a different perspective, a different history and a different method of accomplishing their goals. Nothing in the world can compare to the immense joy I felt in being accepted by my peers, just as I am, right off the bat, blemishes and all – and not only accepted, but revered, respected and admired. Through that openness and warmth, the connections I have made with women all over the country are incomparable to any professional connections I’ve ever made in the past. Words cannot truly express how grateful I am to have been guided to this place.
Every now and then throughout the year, when I would find myself working closely with leaders of many national advocacy organizations and legislators whose ears were perked to hear my voice, my ego would step in and I’d think, “Look at me, being all totally awesome and working alongside the power players!” But just as quickly as my head would swell, I would be reminded that each of us – every single person working for an agency or organization, in public service or individual citizens sitting at their computers sharing articles and graphics to their friends and family – is an integral part of bettering the world for us and for future generations.
There is no room for dissonance, and there is no time for pause. Occasionally, there are divisions within the activist community. Egos step in and individuals or organizations want to carve their own piece of the puzzle. But we all need to realize that activism that is engaged in the spirit of competition or contempt negates progress toward our greater goal – and the greater good. We can never be as effective in combating injustice carved into pieces as we can when we are joined together as a whole. So, to those few individuals and organizations who wish to battle over egos, personal disagreements or differences in methodology, I say – “Get over it, step up to the plate, join us and get to work!” To the amazing consortium of women and men joining forces for the betterment of humanity, I say – “Keep on keeping on! I’m very honored to know you.”
I’ve been so inspired by the strength and dedication of the people I have worked with all around the country. They inspired me and educated me. I continue to learn from new people each and every day about the plethora of injustices and exploitations we face that many in the general population do not even know exist. (One such issue is human trafficking, and Unite Against Rape is about to launch an awareness initiative on that very topic – write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know more or participate in the campaign.) Let’s all share knowledge, combine resources, give whatever time we have to give and open the eyes of those in our lives to the things they can do to help enact social change. We need everyone to engage, even if only for five minutes a week, to share the knowledge they gain when learning of discrimination and injustice. The whole of humanity is counting on us. If not us, who? If not now, when?
2013 has been a seminal year for me. I have seen the measurable impact of collective determination, and I have built great bonds – true and deep friendships, many of which I am certain will continue to grow for years to come. Thank you, UniteWomen.org. Thank you, Renee. Thank you, Karen. Thank you, Pat. Thank you, Sarah. Thank you, Krystal. Thank you, Sandy. And to each and every person with whom I have interacted in my advocacy for human rights, within UniteWomen.org and outside of it, you have made my world a thousand times richer, and I feel truly blessed in this abundance. Thank you for being you.
Published on the Front Page of Blue Virginia 12/24/13