Our activism project was the consolidation and narrowing down of a much broader set of ideas. We realized that we all shared a passion for wanting to support victims of human trafficking and sexual assault but didn’t know where to start. We struggled with trying to find groups to partner with around campus and Baltimore, but after several dead-ends and unreplied-to emails, a phone call to TurnAround solidified an opportunity to start a non-perishable food drive. TurnAround is a private, nonprofit agency that provides counseling and supports services to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking. They have their central office in Towson, MD and a second branch in Baltimore City. The food that we collected through this drive will be used for survivors who are put into emergency shelters and housing.
We brainstormed many ideas on what we wanted to do as our activism project, going from buttons to interactive flyers to giving talks to elementary/middle school kids about internet safety, another issue that leads to human trafficking. We finally came to the consensus of doing a non-perishable food drive, but aspects of it had a few flaws. One of our main issues was finding spots that would bring in the most donations. Although, once we actually started the canned food drive, we ran into other unexpected problems.
After the first week of the drive, we were not getting the results we anticipated so we decided to think of alternative ways to spread word. We decided to reach out to student organizations and send them an electronic version of the flyer and a brief description about who the drive will be helping. We asked them to forward it to their listservs and instructed them to put the items in the residential halls or to contact one of us if they wanted to meet up instead. The list of student organizations we were contacted were: HLSU, CSA, Sign of Life, VSA, PhiDE, SGA, Unicef, WILL, We Believe You, Women’s Center, and Community Directors of Residential Halls on campus. Most of the organizations were more than happy to assist us, while some did not respond. While emailing these organizations did help, one-on-one conversations with officers yielded the most action. That kind of personable communication helped spread the word and expose our drive to people who don’t just live on campus.
Putting boxes in residential halls worked because college students who live on campus usually have a great amount of non-perishable items that they eat themselves. With our time constraint as the main limitation, this was the most convenient way to collect the items. However, we could have been more successful if we included more public locations, such as grocery stores, libraries, gyms, and different areas around campus, such as the Commons, Women’s Center, and other departments. Having a longer time span for the drive itself may have also allowed for more food to be donated due to the longer duration it would be exposed. We could have also had advertisements posted around the school and surrounding neighborhoods to increase donations. We could have included hygiene products, like feminine products or toiletries, or clothing in our drive. This would not only increase the amount of donations received but also help TurnAround gather more supplies beyond canned foods and non-perishables.
Before the project, many of us had an performative relationship with activism, understanding the need for activism and the need for civic engagement, but not engaging. We could easily share and retweet articles and posts about causes that need supporting or injustices that need reporting, anonymously behind our monitors. However, once galvanized by this opportunity to make actionable change, we learned how it was too easy to leap and tackle a project larger than we were prepared to alter our prior passivity to accomplish. As an activist, we learned how easy it was for us to take on a more ambitious project than we had the capacity to complete. We learned the importance of having series’ of smaller, actionable goals to get towards our ultimate vision. We learned about how much of activism is done behind the scenes. There’s only so much that is going at and actively doing things, making change. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Activism is also supporting those actions the hidden bulk of work including networking with multiple moving parts, waiting for responses, preparing material, and maintaining personal needs around the project. We’ve learned the importance of those hidden responsibilities in activism and how much activism is done beyond what can be seen or heard.
We have also learned that activism can be very challenging at times and the unforeseen obstacles that you face, can be very discouraging but you must never give up and find a way to get around those obstacles. Being an activist is not easy, you must prepared to change your approach and how plan to execute your plan. There will be some setbacks but you have to keep pushing. They ladies at TurnAround told us, that no amount is too little and as long as you are doing your very best to help others, you will make a difference.