Today marks my third month working with Advocates for Youth and my third month in Washington DC.
While I take a moment to once again rationalize the “holy crap, I’m in DC for real real” moment I’m having, I want to write about the Urban Retreat that Advocates for Youth sponsored two weeks ago.
Yes, two weeks ago. Whatever. I was tired. There’s been a lot going on. Don’t judge me, reflection takes time. Did you write a blog on Urban Retreat? No? Yeah, keep your comments to yourself. (If you did happen to write a blog, you may retain your moral high ground.)
Anyway: the Urban Retreat provided a lot to think about, both as a young professional and activist, but there were also a lot of moments for personal exploration (the personal is political, my friends.)
Ok, starting to babble. Don’t want to frame this further. Here are my take-aways:
1. Young people aren’t just passionate, they’re also brilliant.
It feels a common trope to write about how passionate young activists are in the work we do. While this is an incredible part of youth organizing and important in sustaining activism long term, the tendency to silo young people into inspiration and ignore their expertise and practical skills in movement building denies powerful potential leadership. I listened in awe to one of our youth activists explain how they reallocate funds and use fiscal agents to make the most efficient and best use of the money they do have. Yes, we’re inspiring. We also know how to do the work.
2. The revolution requires snacks.
Alright, so I was involved (*cough* in charge of *cough*) purchasing the snacks for the Urban Retreat, and in all honesty did not initially realize the importance of the task. So here is where I admit I was wrong (don’t tell anyone.) Having snacks and a place to eat them allowed folks a space and a shared activity to debrief from the day, de-stress from the sometimes trying coalition work folks have been doing, and provided a quick energy boost to keep marathoning through the long retreat. And pudding is delicious.
Side note: I conducted an informal study during the period of Urban Retreat on the ideal amount of candy required to sustain my energy levels and keep the event moving forward. Unfortunately, the study proved inconclusive, as I ate so much candy I got a stomach ache. I regret nothing.
3. It all flows two ways
So “we’re all connected” sounds like hippie shenanigans, which seems to be far too easily written off. This take-away is for those of you who are less about feelings and more about getting stuff done – the work someone is doing somewhere matters here and vice versa. I have done international work in multiple fields, and there is a tendency in the United States to act as if we are just “helping” other countries and regions. When our partner organizations in Uganda fight against violent homophobic oppression, and challenge the norms of colonization – they are opening a dialogue, changing local and global policy, and making it safer for everyone. Having people doing incredible work all around the world at the Urban Retreat showcased that local activism is global activism and we should be conscious of this in the work we do.
4. Appreciate and take advantage of downtime
Really, appreciate it. Napping as social power.
5. The people I work with keep me in awe
This isn’t my attempt to romanticize the event planning process and pretend that movement building and action planning are easy, beautiful processes where everyone is always full of sparkles and sunshine (though I do think we need more sparkles.) This is quite the opposite: event planning and coalition work suck. A lot. There is a lot of work, a lot of opinions, and a lot of moving logistical pieces that require precise timing and a huge amount of teamwork; usually resulting in some conflict.
And we pulled it off with (mostly) smiles, pizzazz, and comradery.
Numerous staff members and youth reached out to me in moments I needed a quick pep talk or pick-me-up. Folks kept on point, but also went out of their way to establish and affirm relationships. I think this was my favorite and most useful part of organizing within Urban Retreat: it doesn’t just unite us as part of a youth movement for sexual and reproductive health and rights, but establishes our kinship.