About a year ago, I had no idea what being an activist was. My world rarely intersected with politics, certainly not radical activism or even any community events. My life was comfortable and I had no reason to complain. But when I took a moment to check in with my heart, I saw that I was unhappy and unsatisfied. I began to pray to the universe to bring me toward something meaningful and creative.
My wish was granted. A series of events—getting laid off from work, a strong urge to address climate change, and meeting some of the most powerful and passionate activists in Seattle—changed my life. I’m now a full-time activist working with grassroots collectives, I work for a nonprofit, speak publicly with a group I co-founded called Women of Color Speak Out, and I’m starting a worker’s cooperative with a group of like-minded friends. My groups speak out against systems of oppression. I organize people to participate in civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action. I’m learning the ways and lessons of native people who’ve lived in harmony with the delicate balance of our living world for centuries. And the truth is, I’m now deeply satisfied and in love with the people I work with, but this work is stressful, difficult, and sometimes heartbreakingly depressing. These are my confessions on why I do this work.
Confession: The condition of our world is overwhelming and terrifying. You only have to sit for a minute and look around at our present global situation to see that we’re in crises. Whether they’re economic problems—the enormous wealth gap, poverty, homelessness—or the racial injustices, the continued oppression of people of color through systemic racism; or the destruction of the natural world—pollution of our food and water, the abuse of resources, animals going extinct; or the effects of patriarchy—rape culture and oppression of women, the list seems to never end.
It is overwhelming. And as maddening as it is, I recognize why it’s easier to look away and go shopping or to the bar.
Confession: Karma’s real. I may be a fairly new activist, but I’ve been a spiritual person for many years. One of the more complex concepts I’ve contemplated about is karma. The word karma translates as taking action. In its most basic meaning, this concept lives in our popular culture in metaphors like ‘as you sow so shall you reap,” or “what goes around comes around,” but it is a far more complex concept. As humanity, we are at the brink of facing serious consequences of the evil actions of a few who perpetuate systems that exploit and oppress other living beings, and the ignorant actions of many who act in the confines of these systems, or those who act impulsively without considering consequences. Thankfully, there continues to be a powerful movement of those who are awake to the realities and work tirelessly for a better world. And it is a long and painful process.
Confession: I am responsible for what’s going on in the world. Here’s another concept I have taken to heart from my spiritual work. Responsibility. Being responsible is supposedly such a “grown up” idea in our culture, that many with privilege choose to ignore it to be rebellious. I have learned to think of it as “the ability to respond.” Everything you have an ability to respond to is your responsibility. This is not placing guilt or blame, but recognizing that every action, thought, and intention you give energy or life to, has consequences.
Confession: I am powerful. I have come to recognize the power of my own actions. I have caused hurt, I have made mistakes, and I have seen the sweet fruit of being grounded in love. I have no doubt about the power of my thoughts, words, and deeds. And I recognize that I have to do my part. I am powerful, but I am so much more powerful in my community, working with other people.
Confession: Finding the balance is hard. Sometimes the work is extremely frustrating, madly infuriating and often devastatingly depressing. I look around and there seems to be no end in sight of the number of things that need to change. If I allow myself to go down that rabbit hole, I usually cower under the blankets or reach for a bottle of wine. So I learned that it is important to find another way. That’s when spirituality helps me.
I’m learning to stay grounded in joy. Yes, the world is beautiful and there is so much love and joy around me if I take a moment to find it. Love is the sun’s offering of light to us, and love is the gentle tugging of the moon on the ocean’s tides. I am grateful for everything I have and grateful for being alive and all the comforts I’m able to afford myself. But I cannot look away. I can’t ignore my interconnectedness with the world and universe I’m a miniscule but irreplaceable part of.
I can’t enjoy what I have without taking some time and energy to make a difference; without thinking of the consequences of as many of my actions as I can, without recognizing that I have power and I have a part to play.
I’m going to end with a quote that I saw in a heartbreaking video about an island in the Pacific, 3,000 miles away from the mainland on which thousands of albatross birds hatch their babies. Near this island, floats an enormous patch of plastic waste, millions of bits of plastic that we used for a few minutes and threw away.
The parent albatross birds are feeding their babies bits of plastic. The video was a testament of the consequences our use (and disposal) of all those plastic products. Plastic spoons, and bottles, and pen caps. Those thousands of baby birds, dying, full of plastic, are our responsibility. How do we respond to that reality?
Seattle has a powerful activist community. And the movement needs people with every skill and every interest. If you have always felt overwhelmed but want to make a difference, come join us at the largest climate related civil disobedience in the Northwest ever. Join is as we Break Free From Fossil Fuels. Visit www.breakfreepnw.org.
“Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time and allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us and our future?”
Afrin Sopariwala is a writer, activist and spiritual student working to radically change our relationship with mother earth and each other as humans.