If not for yourself, make the world better for people you love

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Our Family Portrait last week featured a very touching line from interviewee Amelia Michael. Towards the end of the interview, after talking about her work helping companies be more inclusive and her passion for making LGBTQ-themed clothing and accessories, Michael brought up the connection between raising her child, who is nonbinary, and her LGBTQ activism.

“A lot of the reason that I do what I do, the workshops, PolyCute, etc, and my focus on gender inclusion is all because I want the world to be nicer to my kid, you know.”

Those of us who have worked in activism and civil rights have our own individual reasons for doing what we do, but they all lead back to the same sentiment: we want the world to be a better place for ourselves and the people we care about. Sometimes those people are our family members. Our parents who struggled to raise us, our siblings who supported us, our children who taught us how to be better. Sometimes those people are our friends, the ones we connected with and decided to keep close. Sometimes they’re our neighbors who share the same streets and same neighborhoods with us. Sometimes they’re strangers, people we met once, people we learned about secondhand, people we see only through the lens of the media.

The people we fight for help to center us when the work gets tough; they remind us that there is no greater gift than to use our knowledge, experience, and empathy to make the world better for others.

Without these people anchoring us, the fight for equality might seem impossible. After all, the entirety of human history has been one of shifting power struggles. And the realists among us understand that there will never be a perfect world. There will always be groups who are marginalized because there will always be people who want power, people who only want to dominate others. Rest assured that when one group gains rights, another will inevitably lose them. But the struggle doesn’t have to be that cynical.

By thinking small, of that individual or group who means the most to us, the fight for equality becomes much more manageable. It helps focus our efforts on specific, targeted areas. The fight for equality is wide. It involves everything from food and housing insecurity to foster care to hospital visitation to employment rights. Nobody can do it all; nobody can change every single one of those things. But it’s a safe bet that we can change one of them, whether on a federal, state, or local level, whether through a decade-long process or a single moment of standing up to bigotry.

So, if you’ve been an activist for years or are looking to become one, there’s an easy thing you can do to keep yourself centered. Talk to someone close to you and ask them about one thing they wish could change. Read the newspaper and keep track of the one article that made you shake your head in disbelief. Pay attention to what happens at your grocery store, your community center, your place of work or worship, and remember the moments that don’t sit right with you.

Then use that knowledge to figure out what you can do. It’s guaranteed that you’ll be able to change something, even if it’s small. Every little bit is important. Every little bit helps.