A few weeks ago, I went to a JStreet event with John Ging, the head of the United Nation’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip since 2006 . He told us about some young Palestinian girls who came into his office concerned about the security situation and the threat to the UN and the work it was trying to do. “You must be brave,” they said. My cynical heart beat quickly in my ears.
Optimism for me is like math: I need to be tutored in it. I have trouble believing that things can get better, in spite of the fact that I also have to believe that it can in order to get up in the morning, often literally. I just keep wondering, how do we make it better? What are the answers? Is it to punch through the wall from the inside, or build a new structure entirely? (Both, perhaps?) How much longer and harder will it take?
Tonight I had a conversation with someone who is amazing and exhausted, like too many smart, dynamic activists I know. Some of us know the potential we hold to make change, and I think that those are the people who are in the most trouble. Potential is perhaps the most excruciating burden to have, it can make us fearful and exhilarated and so tired. It depends on energy and patience and the willingness of others to move and be moved, things we cannot control. It’s also terrifying because it requires confrontation with our priorities and limitations, and ultimately, with our mortality. We are one of a kind, whether we know it or not, and no one can do things quite like we can.
This last part is something I’ve struggled with for a long time, and continue to. Leadership saturation is really powerful, and dangerous. It happened in 2008 with Barack Obama, when people pinned all their hopes for change on him. His campaign slogan invited that hope, but when change proved slower and harder than people would like, there came a backlash. It happens to any activist when they have to admit they’ve had enough, they’re burnt out, they’re not taking care of themselves. Who will do it? Who will take on their role? The answer, I’ve been forced to admit, is no one, at least not the way I would. This doesn’t mean I have to be the one who always does it, but it does mean I have to have some faith, in spite of the petulant child/control freak inside me.