Every day, we walk into the black building with bright red windows at 33 Church Street. We say hi to the man at the front desk who smiles at us and pushes the button that lets us through the gate. We get into the elevator and ride it up to the fourth floor. June opens the office door for us and we walk purposefully down the hallway to the back room where our desk is. We pull out our computers and joke around for a few moments before coming up with a game plan for the day. Then, we get to work which consists of us writing articles, researching, editing our video project, or making infographics.
This is our daily routine. However, as time has progressed at this internship, I have become less focused on the ‘work’ aspect of that routine. I do not like to admit it to myself or on this public space, but I have been increasingly wasting time on the computer to avoid this work.
I am not trying to make excuses, but I am just trying to understand why I have allowed myself to get so distracted. I was and still am so excited about the job that I have and the work that I am doing. I am literally working on human rights policy and learning about prison reform which are two of the things that I am most interested in and passionate about.
Every time I tell someone about this work and my internship, I think to myself about how cool what I am doing sounds. So what is it? Why am I not as engaged as I thought I would be?
I think the word to describe how I feel is disconnected. Unlike the interns at the Women’s Legal Centre, Sonke Gender Justice, or SACTWU who have met sex workers, refugees, and union workers, we have not had the chance to interact with the people who we are working for. We sit at our desk in the office on the computer, and it is hard to feel like I am actually helping anyone.
So maybe this whole conundrum is just selfish because I want to feel like I am directly improving someone’s life. Maybe I can help people in the long-term more by pushing for this law even if it feels very abstract.
Right now, we are working to educate the general public on the Prevention and Combatting of the Hate Crimes Bill which will open for public forum hopefully within the next month. We are doing that through infographics, revamping the Hate Crimes Working Group social media pages, and an informational video. We are also starting a sort of spotlight series of articles where each one will focus on the experience of a specific part of someone’s identity like race, nationality, sexual orientation, or religion that is targeted by hate crimes.
But will anyone look at those infographics? Will anyone care to watch the video? Will anyone read the articles we put on our website? And, even if they do look at those things, will they be moved to action? Will any positive, concrete change result from our work?
I knew at the start of this and I know still that my work will not change lives. At all. I know that I am here in Cape Town for only seven weeks and I am a relatively unqualified student. I knew and know still that I will get more out of this than the people I am working for, and that is okay.
However, like anyone else, I still wanted to help and make a difference. I wanted to be the outlier. I wanted to really create big changes for the Hate Crimes Working Group.
I don’t want to be cynical because it just feels like it’s what is supposed to happen. You’re supposed to be wide-eyed and naive, then go on this trip, do the work, realize how insignificant you are and how hard it is to work through the bureaucracy of things. Then, you learn what you can for your own purposes and go home to hopefully carry those lessons with you. Selfishly, I wish I wasn’t part of this cliché. I wish I could have helped out significantly. It is just difficult to think that after seven weeks of work, the bill still might not be put into law, people will still be attacked because of their identities, and nothing will have palpably changed. I know that is the lesson- we are a supporting role in this production, not the lead. We are here to do whatever is needed to help in even the smallest sense because it is a bunch of tiny changes that lead to social progression over time. I know these things are true in my head, but I am still trying to get my ego to understand them.
So, starting tomorrow, I’m going to walk into the black building with the red doors, ride the elevator to the fourth floor, walk down the hallway to the desk in the back, and I’m going to do the best job I can at writing this article on religious discrimination because that is what my boss wants. That is how I can be of use at this moment.