As I walked out of Union Station, having enjoyed a brief lunch break during the 2015 RESULTS International Conference, I see a small group of people panhandling on the street in front of me. I suddenly become incredibly aware of two things.
1) I am wearing a conference tote bag that screams about “ending poverty”
2) I have $2.00 left in my pocket after spending my cash on my burger and Starbucks.
I am sipping a totally unnecessary Frappuccino while a beady-eyed man is asking for food, trying to garner life-sustaining nutrition on the streets. I learned a lot during the first few days of my training as a REAL Change fellow, but perhaps the biggest lessons involved privilege. Conversations around issues of privilege make people uncomfortable, no one wants to be more privileged than someone else, guilt and defenses naturally comes up. However, as I heard in one of the many, many talks and panels over the past for days, “Outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens”
I believe this is true, and in the unique setting of a cohort of Real Change Fellows, I was able to get a little uncomfortable and discuss privilege.
It was an eye-opening experience. Unlike some of my peers, no one has ever been shocked by how educated I was, no one has stopped my speech to tell me they were impressed with how “articulate” I was or how “intelligently” I spoke.
I was struck when one of my colleagues mentioned that during Lobby Day, they had a sense of not belonging on Capital Hill. I had felt no discomfort as I maneuvered from meeting to meeting…but seeing the setting through my colleague’s eyes, showed me something my own had completely ignored. The overwhelming majority of the people we encountered on Lobby Day looked just like me. White, male, in almost identical suits as my own…
I am no closer to an answer on the complicated, interconnected issues and ingrained systems of oppression that still marginalize entire demographics of people. However, I think participating in discussions like the one I was able to witness on Wednesday is a start, so I would like to thank my peers alongside me in the 2015 REAL CHANGE Fellowship for that gift and insight.
In what is supposed to be the heart of our nation, I see families sleeping on park benches. Within the same zip code that houses the leader of the free world, we have hungry people dying in the streets. I am appalled by this blatant disparity in our capital. However, I think it speaks volumes to the true reality of a problem spread across communities throughout our nation.
It is a powerful thing to feed one hungry woman outside our hotel. But once inside, I also learned the even bigger power I can yield, feeding thousands of people by getting those privileged, suited people in wood-paneled offices to act on these issues.
We still need volunteerism, and I will continue to spend my time doing so. But I will also begin to raise my voice as an advocate. I now see that politics, rather than a necessary evil, could be yet another tool for us all to change the world for the better.