by: Kara Crawford
I had a recent conversation with the owner of my apartment. I live in Colombia, so we were speaking in Spanish, and on this particular occasion we were talking about Spanish. He told me stories of his time spent in the US and how he would occasionally have confusing moments where he only knew one translation for a word which stands for multiple ideas in Spanish, but its translation only means one of them.
A particularly funny case was with the word “cita,” which basically means anything you could put on your calendar, from appointment to date. He only knew the translation “date,” so needless to say he had some hilarious mishaps with trying to set up appointments with coworkers and the like. (Imagine “what time is our date?” being the question in place of “what time is our appointment?” and you’ll get the picture.)
All hilarious language-related mishaps aside, it got me thinking, what other Spanish words have multiple meanings? One that came to mind was the verb “esperar,” which means either “to hope” or “to wait.” Since a lot of recent events in my life have much to do with hope and some to do with waiting, this really got me thinking about the two concepts.
Being a “rose-colored glasses” optimist, I tend to have many hopes. I see the possibility and hope in many aspects of life where pessimists might see risk and the chance for failure, and where realists might see both the pros and cons, both opportunity and risk. I want to believe that the things that I hope for can become a reality, because otherwise, I wonder, to what end do I do the work that I do? I sometimes wonder how someone could be willing to do any social change work without being particularly optimistic.
Much of my social change work in the past few months have been heavy on what I see as the dissonance between hoping and waiting. I hope for many changes to happen, but given the context in which they need to happen, I don’t have that much pull on whether or not they ultimately come through, so while I can exercise my agency in hopes of helping to sway some of the people who can affect the official changes, I still have to wait for those changes to be accepted by those who control them.
Take, for instance, my recent intensive work for queer inclusion in The United Methodist Church. As much as I hoped for the full inclusion of queer folks and was willing to work for it, I didn’t have a vote, and so my voice was limited to the extent to which delegates with a vote were willing to listen to it. Though I’ve hoped, worked, and waited for years for this change to happen, the waiting aspect of “esperar” persists.
I hope for change; I see possibility of change; my activist self is not willing to sit around and wait for change. While I still see the overall value of systemic change, I wonder if it really makes all that much difference. Sure, The UMC could make a decision to affirm the full inclusion of queer folks; sure, laws could be passed against bullying and for marriage equality and equal benefits and changing a whole plethora of other things in our society and world that need fixing, but if they aren’t enacted on the ground, they ultimately mean nothing.
We cannot simply call a victory the end of our work. Likewise, we cannot give up hope because of an apparent defeat. No matter the systemic change or lack thereof, we must always be working for grassroots change. With or without the laws and policies in place which officially bring change, it is really the grassroots changes which make the difference in the day-to-day reality of those suffering from injustice, oppression, and exclusion.
We must continue working with schools and youth programs to prevent bullying. We must continue encouraging religious communities in queer-inclusive efforts and practices on the local level. We must encourage employers to offer equal benefits to same-sex couples and other couples that do not have legal access to state recognition of their partnership for whatever reason (or who, for their own reasons, choose to not participate in the state institution).
We must never give up the fight at the grassroots level, because that is truly where changes make a difference in people’s lives, regardless of what happens at the institutional level. It is there where there is always hope for change, even if we must still “wait” for change.
Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been actively involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, queer issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with the United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.