Annually, March 8 is celebrated as “International Women’s Day” and this year also a boycott that was supposed to be an all-out strike among women from work, school, commerce, and general engagement. Since the U.S. presidential election in 2016, more and more strikes are being called for- bodega strike, taxi strike, and now a women’s strike. The impact of these movements is to demonstrate how essential these highlighted groups are to the functions of day to day life. The problem is those who need change the most are those with least amount of time to actually dedicate to the cause. They are busy serving the functions that, in fact, keep them from having free time, which also keeps them oppressed. Others with the freedom of time then act in their best interest, overshadowing and silencing those being marginalized. We, as a society, are constantly caught in a circle of working for others causes and speaking on others behalves which directly works to perpetuate the marginalization and oppression of “others.”
There’s something to be said about the luxury of time, because it is just that. Having time that is not for any predetermined purpose and is free to be used in any way is a huge luxury. Having free time assumes a level of wealth and power and assumes a socioeconomic class. People with “free” time, not coincidentally, have the most social, economic, and civil freedoms. Having the ability to attend a rally or a march, or to take a day off work to stand in solidarity with a general strike, means that someone can afford to not receive money for those hours lost at work. Or perhaps they are on salary and they can simply use a sick or personal day. If you are not at this socioeconomic level, this just isn’t an option. If you work an hourly job, you are losing a ton of wages and possibly even jeopardizing your job due to an unexcused absence. When your time is not your own, you continue on a hamster wheel of survival rather than thriving and moving beyond your current circumstances; you just make end smeet. People who have free time also have the luxury to use that time for self-improvement which also can help them continue to climb the socioeconomic ladder. People who have free time also devote energy and work to special needs causes and are the people who act as the representatives for these unique groups.
When outsiders become the voice of a group to which they are not a part of, they negate the voice of that entire group. One thing that I have noticed as I have attended various, typically working hours, rallies and marches is that the majority of the participants are white. And while I am very glad that people are taking notice of the terrible injustices being done to many different groups in the U.S., it is still quite problematic when they are speaking in an authoritative manner about experiences of others. There is an extremely definitive line between empathy and sympathy here.
What I’m seeing quite a lot of is people speaking about and conveying the experiences of groups to which they are not part. They have lots of time to research, and march, and write blogs (like this one!) which means they have time to spend understanding, but more often than not, that gets translated into speaking as a voice of a community rather than as an ally or a listener and supporter. Many (re: most) of the efforts being launched currently, to counter Trump administration legislation that directly impacts various groups, are being led by white men and women. And while I applaud the compassion and hard work of community leaders and grassroots organizers, I also have to wonder why they are not using different, more inclusive tactics that allow for the voices of those who are most negatively impacted to be heard. Are these rallies and strikes helping the people who need help the most? Not really.
Everyone feels warm and fuzzy when they make a sign, attend a rally, chant a cleverly worded resistance slogan. But once these events are over with, what remains? Is everyone going to have a home, or a hot meal, or safe, affordable medical care? No. But people not directly impacted by the cause can go home and sleep soundly knowing that they “did something” to help. What exactly did you do to help? This isn’t changing any one person’s outcomes (or anyone’s outcomes) and it also deflates the sense of urgency for causes. Once an event wraps up, there is sort of this feeling that the case is closed and we can all go back to our normal lives now. But the same problems are still the same problems. We need to re-strategize how we think about “helping” others. Those of us with free time should be giving that away. Anyone with time to give has an incredibly valuable resource to share, immediately, with someone to enhance their life in a measurable way.
So my act of resistance is to give my free time to someone else who doesn’t have any free time. Offering to help shovel out my neighbors car so they can get to work on time, cook a meal for a group of refugees and get to know their stories, make phone calls on behalf of a charity to help spread the word about their cause. Any effort to give your time to someone else is significant. If you have free time, you have time to give, so spare it to someone who has none. Learn about others experiences, listen, and rethink how resistance looks to be more intersectional.