I’m wrestling with my power, the opportunity of this moment, and the longer, slower work I may be being called to.
On one hand there’s the big opportunity that may be once a decade. Perhaps once in a generation. And it feels like it’s happening right now and I need to jump on it. On the other hand there’s the slower work of figuring out the power of my life’s work, what is really mine to do, and trusting the relational work that’s cumulative.
The first opportunity is clear. If we have a new President, a new Senate, what will the big policy push of the first 100 days be? The Green New Deal? What if it also had shared ownership woven in? What if there was policy change that made it easy for community capital to be mobilized and massively expand shared ownership opportunities for all? Perhaps I’m naive, but my hunch is I may be one or two people removed from a handful of the key people that could be shaping these decisions over the next 6 months.
On the other hand, I know I have a tendency to sprint at big opportunities. Often good things come from those sprints, but I often overestimate my own power and ability to seize the opportunity. I get easily drawn up in working fast and hard to pursue the outcomes. I’ve learned that in these periods I get spread thin and it often leads to burn out and harm to others as a result of my trying to take on too much.
I realize there is another body of slower work of relationship building and gradual integration that keeps inviting me closer. I notice the invitation when I make time for a contemplative sit and writing. When I intentionally create this space, I find it easier to resist the attraction and immediate gratification of smaller near-term projects (like email). Creating this space in my calendar, requires me saying “no” to lots of interesting people and opportunities that feel like they could be important.
However, when I do make the time to write, I sink into deeper work and feel swells of energy that emerge from a deeper place. I also notice that when I’ve taken time to sit and ground myself with writing, I show up with a different kind of attention. I feel a sense of spaciousness, and an ability to notice and wonder at the possibilities.
As I wrestle with whether or how to pursue the opportunity of this moment, this story of my parents and the place I grew up emerged for me.
My parents were significantly shaped by Catholic Social Teaching, lay ecclesial partnerships emerging from Vatican II, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker approach to active non-violence, and the charism of Maryknoll missionaries. A couple years after they got married, they chose to accompany and work with migrant farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida.
Their move to the small town of 10,000 or so residents — mostly a mix of Mexican, Haitian, Guatemalan, Honduran — would easily have been seen as insignificant to their friends, family, peers at the time. Today, however, Immokalee is on the map in the modern struggle for workers rights and food justice because of the patient work of building community, weaving relationships, and building trust. Greg Asbed, Lucas Benitez, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers have been recognized for their fair food program work by many including with a recent MacArthur Genius Award.
The origins of their work started with my parents’ efforts, and gradually evolved with the capable leadership of others. As I look back on this period in the 1980s and 1990s, I wonder how my mom’s naturally transparent ways of building relationships, or her work with groups of young people, or her bread-baking and unceasing hospitality contributed to other families choosing to invest in the collective work of building power with the farm workers. I wonder how things would have unfolded without her patient unglamorous work — at the intersection of drawing many interesting people from within the community and drawing outsiders into the work — and how together there was a collective deepening of commitment to the work with, for, and among farmworkers fighting for basic human rights. I vividly recall hunger strikes when I was a kid where the Coalition was fighting for decent wages, against wage theft, decent housing, protection from the harmful, cancer and leukemia causing pesticides… and ultimately their work went on to win meaningful victories from major restaurant and grocery chains from Taco Bell to McDonalds to Publix.
What does this offer me?
My hunch is that I need to lean into the slower work of building the relationships. Investing strategically in the right relationships can lead to building the power that can have the kind of transformative impact that Biden’s first 100 day policy push might have on offer.