Why Not Just Sit at Home? Volunteering and Other Community Ideals

In a few hours I’ll be going to a meeting of the board of my housing co-op as newly elected director. Tomorrow morning I’ll be going to the office of St. Clare’s Multifaith Housing to sign cheques, write a thank you letter or two and do any other tasks I’m likely to find. This coming Sunday I’ll be taking part in a worship service. Next week I have a meeting of the SCM endowment committee. In my spare time I’m working on updating the content for a church website. I keep myself connected to the world, taking on tasks suitable to my skills and experience and help to share in the ongoing work of ensuring that there are alternative institutions to help meet the interests, expectations and needs of the individuals within the broader civil society.

Over the years I’ve spent 1,000s of hours at meetings, took part in demonstrations and non-violent resistance campaigns, wrote press releases, organised benefits, took part in poetry readings, sat on the boards of co-operatives and community agencies, served as a union local executive member and shop steward, lead bible studies, reviewed financial statements and assisted in developing long term financial projection, did childcare and in other ways shared in the organisational life of my broader community. While less energetic than in the past, I still value to opportunity to be a part of the work for a more just, compassionate and peaceful world.

At times I am not sure if I gain personally from such involvement. There
is stress, frustration, disappointment and at times boredom as generation after generation we try to development new co-operatives, organise actions to support workers rights, initiate campaigns against involvement in the latest war, deal with individuals who feel that every gathering is their personal therapy group and the permanent conflict between structural needs and individual initiatives. And I am not always certain if what I do is valued or truly helpful. However, if eternal vigilance is the price of liberty then eternal meetings is the price of community, the real price of a society that exists to meet the needs of its community.

There are many groups that exist whose purposes undercut mine—from rate payer groups that oppose non-profit housing in their community to racist and anti-Semitic groups that incubate hatred to those that lobby for weapons manufacturers. Just because they exist and use dedicated volunteers doesn’t make them allies in the struggle. But because they exist and work hard, I am pushed, prodded and encouraged to work harder to counter the harm they do.

Sitting at home and not actively causing harm does weaken the broader progressive movement. Not sharing your ideas and ideals means that there are fewer options to consider. Not being present at a demonstration or speaking at a City Council committee called to hear deputations can lead to a view that those that care about justice are fewer in number than are actually out there in the community.

Voting, taking part in the periodic and sanctioned political contests, is only
one way of being a part of the political process and doesn’t help in the hard and ongoing work of building up a new world. It is the real and asserted voice of networks of caring activists that transforms the world. From serving in soup kitchens to blocking the roadway into an arms factory, it is being an active presence in the world that is key.

In the Christian tradition, 2,000 years ago someone who fed the hungry
and overturned the tables of the money lenders set in motion an ongoing
movement that is revolutionary in its simplicy. Care for one another—
the practical expression of seeking to live out a right relationship
with the creator and everything within creation.

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