This advice column offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector.
With all the violence in the U.S., what is the message to all of us in nonprofits who care about social change?
I feel disheartened and discouraged by the persistent flow of news about people harming one another. In my personal world, people care about both each other and social justice. Can we really make a difference when there are violent haters out there who attempt to pull down everything my colleagues and I try to build?
I have spent the last few days talking to many nonprofit colleagues, all of whom are also expressing the same sense of hopelessness related to the social turmoil, violence and injustice we are all watching and reading about on a daily basis in the news.
I’d like to hear what others think as well as find ways to overcome our anxiety and continue to work for positive social change.
Kathryn says ...
I’d love to hear what other nonprofit professionals think — I can only answer for myself. My attempts to personally deal with the domestic terrorism from the "alt-right", a white nationalist movement, may not be the best for someone else.
Like you, I have devoted my life to social good and am shaken to my very soul. This has been a dreadful year in the U.S. The hate, senseless violence and destruction in across the nation is a mirror image of incidents that are occurring all over the world, every day.
It is difficult to keep going on with business as usual when white supremacists and neo-Nazis crawl out from under their rocks intending to harm whomever they target: physically, emotionally and spiritually. I have close family members of different faiths and racial backgrounds. I fear for them and the wider world.
At the same time, my approach to apprehension and fear is to give voice to my protest. I do what I can to financially support those who are actively working against these hate groups. I hold onto the faith that I retain in most human beings and I will believe that good can triumph over evil — but we must act to make it so. I won’t let the repugnant haters take away my heart.
I also feel that those of us who want to uplift the world must be willing to stand up and fight back. Not with violence, but with stubborn and unwavering resistance and an honest willingness to call out racial and religious hatred. Most right-thinking Americans will push back because neo-Nazism and white supremacists represent the darkest and ugliest side of our culture and society.
History has seen this before. We already know that fanatical racists left unchecked will not hesitate to torture, maim and annihilate anyone on their “kill list.” Their ultimate goal is a gas chamber, a lynching or a firestorm awaiting those they hate in their dystopian dreamland.
We are all people, all humans. Shades of color or differences in religious beliefs should not condemn innocents to death or to beatings with wooden bats or to cars careening into crowds. We have a president that appears to be complicit and seems to be happy to point the finger anywhere else than at the monsters who want us to return to 1938 Germany and Kristallnacht.
Angela says ...
I’m glad you asked this question because reflecting on it helped me remember those of us who are working for social justice. Regardless of how lonely and discouraged we might sometimes feel, we should remember we are not alone. We are part of a movement larger than our agencies and ourselves. We are fighting for the greater good.
The onslaught of bad news is non-stop: racial profiling, law enforcement’s impunity in cases of excessive use of force against people of color, the demonizing of people of other faiths, the vilification of refugee families from that come to the U.S. in search of safe harbor and everyday misogyny and sexism.
With history as our teacher, we know that the people who take to the streets spewing vile rhetoric of fascism and hate aren’t new. They’ve been there all along. These are the same people that have stymied efforts to curtail the institutionalization of racism and systemic violence. They are the people that have misunderstood access to opportunity for others as loss of opportunity for them. Nevertheless, the danger we now face is that these individuals and their sympathizers feel emboldened. They believe that their existence is justified by the moral ambiguity — if not outright corruption — that originates with our nation’s leadership. We are in the middle of this giant wake-up call reminding us how much we have left to do and we must lead ourselves through this.
A first step in that process is recognizing that as a citizenry, we were wrong about progress in our society. We were never post-racial, post-sexist, or post-hate. In fact, the outrage many among us are just starting to feel has been searing the souls of people of color for centuries.
Second, we must harness this opportunity to self-reflect and to channel the outrage and hurt. It’s time to ask the hard questions that lead to uncomfortable growth. We can no longer allow privilege to go unchecked because that is what led us to this moment. Inaction and silence make us complicit.
Third, in this political climate doing something often means holding the line to preserve the civil, human and environmental rights of the communities we serve. It’s about protecting the wins of our nonprofit and activist predecessors, people like us, who soldiered on against all odds. It means playing defense, calling out the haters and the racists for what they are. No false equivalencies here. Perpetrators need to be accountable.
Finally, as bad as things may seem, we must still keep the faith. We must keep envisioning, redefining and working towards a different and equitable future for all.
Gary says ...
Recent events should cause you to examine you core beliefs and the structures on which you stand, now more than ever. People helping people will always be a standard on which our great work is built. You cannot be dissuaded by the actions of crazy people who want to destroy, rather than create.
Bravery in the face of these attacks is critical to our collective future as a society. What better way to reject hate and divisiveness, than to keep doing your good work in spite of this type of behavior? I truly believe that good always wins out in the end. Hate and racism will never find a way to be the prevailing sentiment in our country.
You've no doubt heard the old saying: You have to stand for something or you will fall for anything. Stand on your principles and purpose and hold your head high in the face of true adversity. The collective good deeds of people like you will always add up, many times over, against the few people who choose to destroy. Count on it!
Nigel says ...
What are Americans so scared of? I don’t mean to be inflammatory but growing up in a culture — Australia — where guns are the exception rather than the rule, I struggle to understand the mentality behind an advanced culture enshrining a law which gives a constitutional right to civilians to bear arms.
The recent violent crimes are not unique to the US and I must not forget that concentration camps were not invented by Nazis but by my forebears (the English) in South Africa. But why in the 21st Century do these beliefs and activities persist? Why do we have an intolerance to differences? Governments and religions around the world have subjugated entire populations by restricting freedoms and education and perpetuating feudal systems.
So the answer to me seems pretty obvious: education, understanding and love. But it doesn’t always work. There will always be hate in our world, there will always be paranoia but what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. We have at our fingertips the tools to combat that. The death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville should not be in vain. Understanding will fuel the fire and love will conquer all. Together we will connect, together we will learn, together we will share and together we will all shine.