Dear 2020 Rebecca,
The year is 2030 and as a new decade begins, I have been doing a lot of reflecting about the past 10 years of my life. Thinking back to the person I was at the beginning of 2020 and the person I am today has been a remarkable experience. I can think back to the struggle I was having in navigating my role as a young woman and social justice activist in a world that did not seem to have space for that. And in reflecting on all my learnings, I thought it might be helpful to share some from the past 10 years.
The past 10 years have not been easy. The world continues to marginalize those that stand up against systems of oppression and fight to break down societal power imbalances. You will continue to encounter people telling you that your activism work has rendered you hyper sensitive and incapable of taking a joke. Brace yourself as you will hear “Oh you’re one of THOSE people” more times than you are capable of counting. There will be a never ending line of people trying to convince you that meaningful change is impossible.
But I want to reassure you that these people are scared and made uncomfortable by your existence. So much so that they feel the need to marginalize you as an act of self-preservation, because the alternative means that things they know to be fundamentally true about the world are changing. They are uncomfortable by people like you who threaten to dismantle the systems of oppression and hate that they are relying on for power. They are worried that despite their best efforts to silence you, you continue to push towards change. You are working to deconstruct the power structures and social norms that maintain violent and harmful social systems like sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia and all the other systems of hate that are so deeply embedded in our everyday lives.
And while some want to remain blissfully ignorant of these harmful social systems, there are people who are going to try and actively silence you. Breaking down these social systems means their power, status and privilege is at risk. Your passions and values threaten what they work to maintain, and that means they are going to go to great lengths to stop you. They are going to make your work hard and tiring.
That is why it is so important to remember why you take up this work and what is at stake. Activism is not a choice for everyone, but an act of survival. It is a necessity for those who live in a world that fights to hide or eliminate them. There are many communities that have to legitimize their existence in the world. There are communities that are being forced to take up the exhausting work of continuously explaining why they deserve to live with dignity and rights.
As you embark on the next 10 years of your life, there are some things I want you to know:
Be proud to be one of “THOSE people”
When someone asks if you are one of “THOSE people,” respond with a loud and confident yes. Let them know that you are someone that will continue to name violent actions when you see them and will not stand idly by when someone is being harmful. Let them know that if perhaps more people were like “THOSE people” than the world might not be such a destructive place.
Recognize your privilege and use it wisely
I know better than anyone how hard you have worked to get where you are, but it is also important to continue to remind yourself of your privilege. You were born with so many inherent privileges that were simply given to you. You were lucky enough to be placed on a certain path, and yes you continue to make choices that will keep you on this path, but you had the advantage of being placed right at the starting line. And because of your privilege, you will not experience the same obstacles and roadblocks that others will. Never lose sight of that privilege. Learn how to leverage it for the greater good and to lift the voices of others. The moment you forget the privilege you have, the space you hold can become harmful.
Your actions matter and your voice will be heard
It won’t happen overnight and it won’t happen all at once. But I can tell you the world is changing and it is because of people like you. Change can be slow, and sometimes it can be hard to see, but I promise it is happening. You are one part of a growing movement of people that are no longer accepting the status quo or accepting “that’s how it has always been” as an excuse. You are part of a growing movement that is demanding change and is holding people accountable. And I promise you that the young people today are not growing up in the same world that you did. And that is not to say that there is not still work to be done, but I can tell you that your work matters and is making a difference.
Please continue to be kind to yourself. This journey will not be smooth and it won’t be linear. Caring about things to the extent that you do is hard, messy and exhausting. There will be hard days, and then there will be even harder days. There will be times when you question everything. You’ll doubt yourself, your role and your impact. You’ll contemplate giving up and giving in because it just seems easier. You’ll make mistakes, and you’ll have to be held accountable. But please remember throughout all of it to remain kind to yourself and show yourself the compassion you show others.
You are so lucky to have found “your thing.” The thing that drives you, the thing that sets your skin on fire and compels you to act. One thing that hasn’t changed between 2020 and 2030 is that working to achieve gender equity has remained “your thing.” It transcends just your job, and is intrinsic to who you are as a person. Never lose sight of that. I promise the change will come.