Learning Leads to Action


annie rim -learning leads to action-3

After weeks of temperate weather, we woke up the morning of Martin Luther King, Jr day to snow and temperatures well below freezing. I debated canceling our plans to attend the march. It seemed like a lot of effort to bundle up my two girls, find parking, stand in the cold, and march for four miles. Would they really remember this moment? Shouldn’t I wait until they are older, when they would appreciate all the effort that went into an outing like this?

As I scrambled eggs, I looked over to see my fleece pajama-clad girls reading sweetly by the fire. I grabbed my phone, intending to text our friends and say that we were opting for a cozy snow day. Instead, I listened to a Vox from a another friend who said, “Just bring a thermos of hot chocolate!”

I finished making breakfast, we bundled up in layers, I made a big thermos of extra chocolaty hot cocoa, and we headed out on the icy roads to City Park. We found parking just a block away. There were tears, mittens got wet and the hot cocoa was spilled and refilled. We ran into friends from church. We walked for a few blocks before my friend and I were faced with a mutiny of five cold children, five years old and under.

After we carried our wailing children back to our cars, switched out wet socks for dry, and headed to a nearby McDonald’s Play place, my friend and I talked about the need for collective memory. I took a picture of me and the girls in a brief moment of smiles. I want them to remember that we did this and it was good.

On the drive home, I asked if they’d do it again. My two-year-old said no, she’d rather go to a park. But my five-year-old said yes! Green light checks! We talked about Martin Luther King, Jr and she understood that marching was significant, even if she wasn’t fully aware of all the details.

When life gets overwhelming, I turn to books. When the news gets too hard or I can’t keep up with all the injustice, I research books to fill the gaps in my learning. Last October, I wrote about picking up a book as a first step toward activism.

I still believe in the importance of reading, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how easy it is to stay immersed in reading without doing anything. I need to connect my head and my feet. All the books and learning will stagnate without action behind them. How, exactly, are these books changing my life? What am I doing about it? I’m reading about Frederick Douglass and the conflict in Palestine, but what am I actually doing to move forward in this world?

Maybe it’s being part of the Dangerous Women Tribe, where every day I learn from women living in urban areas or other countries or who are actively participating in activism. It makes me wonder, how much change can I create as I read a book on my cozy couch in my suburban home?

I know that this is a spectrum: my reading impacts my parenting which will impact the future. At the same time, I feel a nudge that unless learning is followed by action, I should question my need to learn.

For a long time, life didn’t seem conducive to activism. Infants and toddlers and the stress and exhaustion that goes along with raising tiny humans made adding another activity too big. But, at just two- and five years old, I’m catching glimpses of this next phase of parenting. We’re still in the thick of it, but life is starting to feel more flexible.

Now is the time for me to model the process of going from learning to action. I read books about refugees and immigrants, but the real impact happens as I’m walking to school every Wednesday with my oldest. As she goes to her classroom, I walk to the portable classroom next to the playground to tutor refugee and immigrant moms. She sees the connection between learning and action.

As we were talking about the Martin Luther King, Jr march, my daughter immediately asked which books we could read to prepare. Already she sees that learning leads to action.

I’m still more comfortable learning than doing. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to just jump into action without doing research beforehand. But I’m recognizing that stretching my comforts doesn’t mean going against my nature. My learning lays the foundation for activism and social justice, even if the start is walking just a few blocks, armed with plenty of hot cocoa.