My name is Rachel Levelle, and my plan was never to be an organizer. I had plenty of other possibilities in my life – I wanted to be an astronaut, I wanted to own a 24-hour coffee shop/bookstore, I wanted to be a research scientist. There were a million things I wanted to do, and none of them entailed chaining myself to train tracks.
It’s not that I didn’t see plenty to protest. When growing up, I was made painfully aware of how racism, income inequality, homophobia, and sexism could hurt those close to me. I could see how climate change was looming over the horizon and immigration fearmongering was causing pain on both sides of the border. But these things seemed fixed in space, insurmountable. Someone else, someone smarter or more charismatic would save the day. Or, maybe those in power would come to their senses if we just explained to them the right thing to do. By recycling and changing lightbulbs, I was doing my part to save the world.
No matter how flimsy these excuses were, they were enough for me to justify ignoring the problems around me. I thought that, to be an activist, you had to have some inner drive that made you want to change the world. I thought all activists wanted to be one. Since all those people who wanted to be activists had it under control, I could disregard the world’s problems.
It wasn’t until this last year that I was confronted with my hypocrisy. I was surrounded by people who believed the same thing as me, but they were following through. They were attending rallies and studying things that would lead them to be strong leaders while I sat on the side. For a while, I tried to have the best of both worlds. I studied science while planning divestment, looked into law schools while fundraising for a convergence. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t happy doing both.
I had to decide what was more important – my aspirations for success or following through with my ethics. And it wasn’t an easy choice, believe me. I had internalized the belief that in order to be worth something, I had to achieve things that the people around me deemed successful. Whether it was actually making it to space or being a government official, I had a white-knuckle grip on the concept of people being impressed by my accomplishments. For some reason, it never occurred to me that activism was something to be proud of (I say “some reason,” but let’s face it: capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy are the reason).
My dilemma finally came to a point this spring, when I was propositioned to be the fundraising coordinator for the Northwest Divestment Student Network. It was a clear, long-term commitment for me to make to decide if I wanted to dedicate my time and learning towards organizing or keep it as a college pastime. Seeing as you’re reading this, you can probably guess what I chose.
I still wish sometimes that I wasn’t an organizer. But those feelings are getting less and less frequent as I talk more with people who share the same values as me and help me grow. My plan was never to be an organizer, and I’m still figuring things out, but one thing is certain: I no longer feel the need to ignore the problems in the world, and that alone has been worth it.
Editor’s note: Rachel co-organized a rally for the fossil fuel resolution, vamped up summer outreach, planned art-making and outreach for the Rock Against the TPP concert, and much more, all whilst maintaining a national organizing position for the Divest Student Network, and showing up for court dates from the Break Free actions. Thank you, Rachel!