Student strives for meaningful activism in imperfect Seattle

Sara Cooley '15 spent her summer interning for a socialist feminist activist organization with another friend in Seattle, Washington. There. she learned the importance of having a "solid activist community."
Sara Cooley '15 spent her summer interning for a socialist feminist activist organization with another friend in Seattle, Washington. There. she learned the importance of having a "solid activist community."
Sara Cooley ’15 spent her summer interning for a socialist feminist activist organization with another friend in Seattle, Washington. There. she learned the importance of having a “solid activist community.”

This summer, my roommate and I packed our bags and moved to Seattle, Washington to try our luck in the so-called real world. Home of Starbucks, the Duck Bus and the infamous Pike’s Place Fish Toss, Seattle in the summer is a sunny, thriving metropolis caught between Puget Sound and the majestic Cascades. It had called to us from a list of possible cities for our internship—New York City? Too expensive. LA? Too hot. Portland? Too grunge. Seattle was perfect.

Seattle was, in fact, not perfect. This was my first experience living in a city of any mentionable size, and the glamour quickly wore off, leaving behind all the inescapable social issues compounded by so-called activists too dazzled by their precious forests to notice the problems of the people they passed everyday on the street.

Out of sheer luck, we were able to find cheap housing with the friend of a friend of a family friend, and ended up staying with a family of four in the suburbs, alternating between entertaining and avoiding the nine-year-old girl who had a knack for bullying us into jumping on the trampoline for hours upon hours on end with her and her childish energy on our rare days off.

When we couldn’t catch the bus, we crossed our fingers that our car wouldn’t break down on the freeway. We both took jobs as canvassers—one of the absolute best temporary jobs for broke college students, especially if you don’t mind exorbitantly high stress, unpaid overtime, absurd work hours and feeling comfortable manipulating people to give money to a cause you don’t even believe in yourself. Capitalist bargains, right?

But it put food on the table. The real reason we were in Seattle was for our internship with a socialist feminist activist organization. This was the real stuff, the stuff that is so important. This was the on-the-ground activism we had been searching for. We were eager for rallies, protests, hard-hitting, nitty-gritty, fight-the-man activism, the perfect opportunity to put our hard-earned Vassar theory into practice.

We were not disappointed on that front. There were plenty of opportunities to take to the streets. What we were not prepared for was the total monotony of life as an activist between the rallies.

Here at Vassar, where the social problems never cease and life feels like an endless cycle of sleeping through class—organizing and attending as many meetings as physically possible, sobbing over SayAnything, repeat—life in the real world of activism was agonizingly slow.

We were facing much of the same issues that we face here, like struggling to network, soliciting funds and collaboration, organizing and delegating and executing the behind-the-scenes logistics to make the inevitable and unavoidable meetings run more smoothly and efficiently.

But for the first time, we were forced to rely on playing by the rules of others. We took for granted the ease with which our orgs at Vassar are able to accomplish our goals. If we need to make a statement, we have the solidarity. If we need money, it overflows. If we need to meet a deadline, we have dozens of people of power just a quick email away.

The activist community here is disappointingly small, and I will sigh as loudly as the next person at the lack of new faces in most social justice-based programming on campus. But our community is strong, and when push comes to shove, we are here for each other, whether we can immediately recognize each other or not.

These things were not so simple for us in Seattle. As much as we were gaining from our internship, we found ourselves facing much of the same ignorance that leads to micro-aggressions from our peers that we faced from mainstream liberal media.

A frustrating amount of our energy was spent educating the very activists from whom we were supposed to be learning. The rest was spent on the streets. There were definitely plenty of times when we felt completely overwhelmed, and times when we were just a small few pushing against the tide of several thousand and expecting, hoping, begging anyone to stop and take just a single moment from their fast-paced lives to stop and consider our plight.

There were days when we struggled to get out of bed and face another day of it, and days when we would rather stay up all night than fall into the trap of the false security that accompanies sleep. We helped each other. If there is one thing that I learned from my Seattle summer that has helped me exponentially in my life both inside and outside the bubble, it is the irreplaceable benefit of a solid activist community, no matter how small.

 

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