In my last post I expressed some of my angst regarding the nature of social justice work in an office setting, but this made me realize the necessity of every small cog and gear in a system. Similarly, with social justice one must advocate not just for their own liberation and welfare but for everyone around them who may not even have the privilege or opportunity to make their voice heard. Every voice matters, so use yours and use it effectively. With each story of a marginalized experience that you can bring to light, your cause becomes stronger in solidarity and authenticity. There is power in numbers, and the trick is to make sure those numbers, even if large, are representative of the relevant and diverse struggles that require constant awareness and action to address.
At the Sierra Club I have learned much about grassroots efforts specificaly. They are so powerful because of the amount of voices (the Lone Star Chapter alone has 22,000 members). Similarly, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has increased awareness of systemic racism in the United States as it gained momentum with more and more stories being shared, especially through social media. #BlackLivesMatter is very distinct from the Sierra Club, however, in that it has no hierarchal structure for organization, purely the voices that choose to use the hashtag. Such a decentralized movement thus loses the weight of beurocracy and becomes much more focused in its goals. As an intern at my site, I felt like a very small gear in the system, but by now I have learned that the small gears don’t just help the system function, they are necessary for it to function whether there is a central organization scheme or not. My desk work, while semi-mundane depending on the day, made my superiors’ jobs easier as they had less of the number crunching and media reading on their plates. Furthermore, I believe it was a valuable opportunity for my coworkers, because through teaching me the basic ins and outs of the organization and the daily work they do, they got to practice communicating these issues in layman’s terms. In the office, I provided an increase in demographic diversity as the youngest person (and especially one not thoroughly educated in environmental issues). This lead to many insightful discussions relating the Sierra Club’s work to social justice as a whole, and I genuinely believe was a learning experience for all parties involved.
If I could go back in time, I wish I had come into the internship with more knowledge of the business and legislation side of environmental justice. All of the policy and lawsuit side of things blindsided me, and when I first got on site I had a lot of research to do on the current political climate in Texas surrounding environmental issues. To anyone considering an internship with the Sierra Club or other environmental justice organizations I would advise to be aware going into it that you are going to take many losses. It can be a discouraging field at times, but you’ve got to keep your head up, continue to fight the good fight, and believe in every part of what you are doing.