By Natasha Freidus
A few months ago I decided to officially give myself a mini-sabbatical to dedicate time to the refugee crisis facing Europe. While the crisis is far from over, I wanted to stop and reflect on what I have learned as I move back into my “normal” life. Or, as I’ve started to say, the “new normal”.
As a volunteer I have been focused on three main areas of crisis relief — local organizing here in France, connecting with people back in the U.S., and the development of online tools. While all three have had their particular challenges there are common threads weaving the solidarity effort together. I’ve learned to give people the benefit of the doubt, as we are all strangers who have come together for justice. I have forged strong connections with these strangers and feel honored to call them friends, even those I have not met face-to-face. Together we’ve witnessed horror. Together we’ve seen neglect that is nothing other than abuse. But above all, together we agree on the dire need for innovation.
We are all very used to getting involved, to giving, to someone else telling us how we can help. Like many of you, I have repeatedly made the mistake of thinking that someone else must be taking care of the problems I’m seeing. Surely people in Paris can find their own coats for homeless refugees in freezing temperatures. Surely someone is making sure that these kids get registered for school in Béziers. Surely there is an easy way for people in the U.S. to donate financially to the refugee crisis. Surely there is a central database of refugee related initiatives. And yet, from the minute to the macro the answer each time has been “no”. So I have learned to stop assuming that someone is already “on it”. I have learned how to find other people who want to develop a solution. And I have learned to act, without making sure it’s perfect. Perfect — that can come later.
But it’s a new year. It’s time to operate outside of the norm. To take problems into our own hands and to collaboratively develop solutions. To draw on our reserves, on one another, and whatever we hold sacred. New years are nothing if not opportunities to reinvent ourselves, to hold true to our resolutions, to innovate.
We are bearing witness to the unacceptable, the intolerable, and so we must not tolerate it — we must not tolerate toddlers washing up on the shores of the Greek isles, or teenagers dying while attempting the treacherous journey from Calais to the UK, or homeless asylum seekers at La Place de la République. We can’t stop today’s headlines, but we can take action against tomorrow’s. Only through innovation can we dictate a new narration of this story.