I’ve always been a highly motivated person. I like to get things done, and I like to get them done quickly. The purpose of my ambition is simple – I want to do work that matters. When I learned I’d be interning this summer at a social policy nonprofit, I was thrilled to finally have a platform to do that work.
The problem, however, is that advocacy doesn’t always have a quick turnover rate. In fact, it rarely does. Attempting to affect meaningful social change usually means playing the long game. It means implementing highly calculated, data-driven strategies to influence both policymakers and the public.
We all know that change doesn’t happen overnight. But the long game can be very frustrating. It’s discouraging to read about countless individuals living in physically and psychologically traumatizing circumstances, yet know that I don’t have any direct power to put a stop to these abuses.
My organization, the Center for the Study of Social Policy, has been advocating for the rights of children and families for decades. The staff is brilliant, resourceful, and committed to their work. And it’s important work – far more effective than anything I or any of my coworkers could do on our own. I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of such an amazing group of people, and I truly do enjoy what I do.
But I still wish – like I always have – that I could be doing more. I wish I could directly release others from the many conditions that perpetuate inequity and suffering.
Some systems, like the child welfare system, result from policies and thus change when those policies do. Others, like structural racism, are deeply ingrained in our social consciousness. There are varying levels of difficulty associated with uprooting these systems – from long and tedious to seemingly impossible.
If I choose to bend to these bureaucratic processes, I fear that I risk losing my fervor. I recognize that successful nonprofit work requires patience. Typically, nonprofits aim to work within preexisting frameworks, not to override them. But I wonder if it’s possible to sustain a fire that burns this fiercely for as long as it takes to see any meaningful change.
Do I learn how to settle for the long game? Is my sense of urgency naive? Or does the strength of my passion for this work simply indicate that I’m exactly where I need to be?