Don’t Agonize, Organize… —by Jinny Batterson
As this election season nears its final month (hallelujah!), I’m ramping up my non-partisan efforts to promote voter registration and to encourage voter participation. Given the negative slant of so much political advertising and media coverage, this can sometimes be an uphill job.
In our area, one of the non-profit groups that I volunteer for is a statewide research and voter advocacy group called Democracy North Carolina. Its offices are tiny and cramped, sandwiched between a new mid-rise apartment complex and the East Campus of Duke University, but its outreach is substantial. Whenever I’m at the office and cadge a snack between phone calls or stuffing envelopes, I come face to face with a large sign on the refrigerator door: “Don’t Agonize, Organize.” It’s a needed reminder.
Over a generation ago, I was deeply involved in a different organization, Servas, this one aimed at “promoting world peace, one friendship at a time” through a global network of individually interviewed and approved hosts and travelers. As a neophyte at dealing with the internal frictions that often arise among us folks with noble aims, as an American struggling to remain hopeful during the final years of the Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., I was approaching burnout. So I signed up for a short-term set of summer workshops, a “Peace Retreat” at a rural conference center in New York’s Hudson River Valley. I hoped that a few days away from midnight telephone calls and conflicting work, family, and volunteer responsibilities might give me a better perspective. I was blown away by the long-term dedication and commitment of the workshop presenters.
Among the sessions I remember best was one given by a couple who’d turned their passion for long-distance running into a major fundraiser and consciousness raising event. For the 40th anniversary of the United Nations Children’s Fund (also known as UNICEF) in 1986, David Gershon and Gail Straub had helped create “The First Earth Run.” According to current Internet information about this historic event,
“During the height of the Cold War, a torch of peace was passed around the world, mobilizing the participation of 25 million people in 62 countries and 45 heads of state. The event raised millions of dollars for UNICEF that was distributed to the neediest children in the world.”
My sense of burnout receded in the face of such a huge, pre-Internet global organizing effort.
Two aspects of the retrospective Straub and Gershon provided about their decade-long work to create and publicize the run struck me most forcefully: 1) at any given time, while most national organizing committees were on a fairly even keel, a few were wildly ecstatic, while a different few were deeply despondent; 2) the groups that were most generous, both proportionally and in absolute terms, tended to be those from economically struggling areas.
So this year I try to stay on a relatively even keel, pulling back from both ecstasy and despondency. I remember the generosity of those with fewer material resources. I remind myself that the electoral process is not perfect, that none of the candidates are, either. I know, deeply, that each of us can strive to make a positive difference, one event, one voter at a time. Don’t agonize, organize!