Shortly after the election, I was talking to a friend about feeling lost. She had been to many political meetings and sought out many volunteer opportunities, but was getting discouraged—where should she put her energy? It was clear that she had to do something to help stop the fascist present from stretching out into a terrifying future, but what? Her work, just then, was to find her real “work.” But how do you join the movement as a non-professional, who has never worked in nonprofits, and isn’t a lawyer?
I’ve been very lucky in finding my way. I grew up using my dad’s hand-me-down work laptops, started learning Photoshop at 12, and taught myself web design and vector graphics at 16 for a student-run environmental nonprofit. I went to college for design and realized that I wanted to always use my skills for good. Today, I pair statistics and stories, working to shift the Overton window of what’s normal and publicly acceptable to encompass and embrace the people I love—queer and trans people, undocumented people, and people of color. I want to create powerful visual arguments for their pressing need and their humanity. I also want to make policy information and research data more accessible to advocates who will wield them as tools in the fight. Sometimes I feel like this work that I love fell into my lap. I forget all the pulling and maneuvering it took to land it there, like a fish on the line: teaching myself, looking for volunteer opportunities, applying for everything.
But there are so many other paths. There are organizers: empathetic extroverts who bring people together for a common cause and have a talent for knowing what role will bring out someone’s best. There are social workers and caseworkers, who help lost and tired people navigate constant injustices and infuriating bureaucracies.
I see queer people in NYC starting food exchanges: they cooked too much stew to eat by themselves, or their work has catering and they can get a few extra sandwiches to give away. I see folks reaching out to their networks, finding housing and employment for undocumented people. They’re throwing postcard-writing parties; hosting political meetings or trans support groups in their living rooms; calling attention to overlooked grassroots organizations; compiling lists of resources and reformatting them for accessibility. I have friends who, somewhat arbitrarily, decided to volunteer at a housing hotline. They were totally unprepared and learned day by day, but then realized they had an affinity for it and were making a difference. Sometimes all it takes is showing up and committing until you and the work grow to fit each other. Sometimes all you have to do is look at what you have, and what others don’t.
Toni Morrison wrote, “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’”
What do you have? Time, power, energy, resources, connections, or a particular skill or passion? Whatever it is, you are needed. You can help.