Exhortation, Tour, Volunteers

AID Connections 2

AID Connections 2

In visits to several AID  chapters we met people engaged in issues deeply connected to AID but not necessarily at the forefront of AID’s currently visible and audible activity.

In almost every chapter there is at least one volunteer who shows interest in working full time on the cause of sustainable development and social justice in with AID India or an AID Partner in India.  Some people choose to work on an agenda complementary to AID or through similar issues through alternate means. Either way, during the years that the volunteer is in the US, AID has the opportunity to help such volunteers better understand the synergy of sangharsh, nirman and seva in such a way that they can meaningfully utilize their talents.  In the case of those planning to move to full time community-based work, particularly in India and to help them plan their transition to grassroots community work
Irrespective of future plans to work in India, while in the US, there are volunteers in every chapter who want to connect deeply with project partners, understand the work and the issues people are dealing with on the ground level, and their connections to national and global policy. It takes time and courage to study and discuss these issues, confront their implications, apply them to our lives and engage with partners who are working from perspectives of sustainable development that take human rights, empowerment, social and environmental justice seriously. Why

AID must be a place that facilitates study and discussion of these issues. This will build our capacity to recognize and support high quality projects.  Such projects are often complex and we need to explain these in greater detail to convince people to support them, morally as well as financially.

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Tour

Austin

Austin Bus M1It was an chilly July day in Austin. Highly unusual. In the morning we stepped out to watch the downpour and a neighbor emerged from his apartment across the hall and asked, “have you lived in Austin long?”

“No,” I replied. Actually we had just got here Friday night and were leaving this afternoon.

“I’ve lived here since I was five,” he continued, “and this weather is really strange. Plus all the parrots.”

What?

“The Parrots.”

“Oh yes,” I said.

He added something about the changing angle of rotation of the earth and that we were approaching the equator.

I politely retreated back into the apartment. The apartment belonged to Sucheta. To the left lived Parvathy and downstairs was Moy. We were in the AID House of Austin … every chapter has one, where the volunteers gather before meetings, after events and store all the material in between.

We had arrived late Friday night.  Akhilesh and Parvathy received us.  Senate Bill 5 was on the agenda and I wondered if people would be in the Austin capitol till midnight as they had done in June. It was midnight when we reached home and indeed the next morning protesters were at the capitol though I don’t think they had stayed overnight.

IMG_0938We prepared for the chapter event Utsav.  In a move that reminded me that even the humble student-apartment dweller can take part in AID Cares, Parvathy clipped some mint from the plant she was growing in a pot and we went to Avni’s place where some volunteers gathered to get set for the evening. We ran through presentations, looked at the posters, learned about the feats of various new and old volunteers, and meditated upon the poster hanging in Avni’s living room. It said “take risks” and “make a scene” and “rock the boat,” among other things.  We took them to heart.

AID Austin holds a General Body Meeting every year, and invites the community supporters as well as previously active volunteers who remain interested in the chapter though they aren’t able to attend weekly Community Service Hours. AID Austin has kept in touch with these volunteers and kept them involved through the annual GBM and other special events.

Parvathy welcomed everyone – more than 90 people attended – and Avni presented the highlights of the previous year. Avni also talked about the monthly project meeting that Austin chapter has started where they talk about one project in depth each month.  She invited those who could not come in person to join the meeting via video conference.

Volunteers and supporters join in singing Is Liye at the close of Utsav 2013, AID Austin’s General Body Meeting and Fundraiser.

Volunteers and supporters join in singing Is Liye at the close of Utsav 2013, AID Austin’s General Body Meeting and Fundraiser.

Ravi and I talked about our work and invited the audience to contribute, which they did with enthusiasm. Some lucky winners even took home a painting, contributed by local artist Anwita.  Afterwards we all sang Is Liye together and went home, buoyed by the energy of the event.

The happy mood was rudely interrupted when we saw the news of the acquittal of the man who had murdered Trayvon Martin, in accordance with the Stand Your Ground law, which struck me as something akin to unleashing a Salwa Judum.

Decolonize Wall Street.  Autographed poster displayed in Monkee Wrench Bookstore, Austin

Decolonize Wall Street. Autographed poster displayed in Monkee Wrench Bookstore, Austin

Sunday morning we had the Austin special “Taco Breakfast” and met some of the volunteers including volunteers who have been more active in the past.     Many were now married with children, who played up a storm while we chatted.  Some of them we hadn’t met since the Texas Retreat of 2006!  Parvathy and Sucheta reminded them to dial into the meetings on video conference – either skype or google hangout.

We tried to find out where any protest actions might be taking place regarding justice for Trayvon Martin but we could not get any specific information. Naveen and I did manage to visit Monkee Wrench bookstore – even they were not entirely sure where any actions were happening.  The bookstore however, stimulated deep conversations, connecting wide-ranging concerns, as only bookstores can.

Monday I was keen to visit the State Capitol Building in Austin where Wendy Davis stood for the historic filibuster and where so many people had stood in protest and even courted arrest over the past few days. In the back of my mind I had a feeling that even if I had managed to come at the time of a protest action, I would just be one among hundreds of people. Still I would want to be there in support.

In spite of the aforementioned rain and the possibility of the earth’s axis tilting, I went out to the bus stop at the corner of 45th and Guadaloupe. I imagined myself in a dimestore novel.  What was more glaring, the headlights at noon on this rainy Austin day or the reflection off the wet roads.

I got off the bus at 11th street. As I walked towards the Capitol I saw some people carrying signs.

Austin Capitol Trayvon1

Denise and her daughter stood outside the Capitol Building in Austin, demanding justice for Trayvon Martin

They wore hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon, though on that chilly wet day,  one would not necessarily have figured that out.

I joined them for about half an hour. Denise, the mother said, “That could have been my kid. You can’t have everyone playing cop.”

I was somewhat surprised to see few passersby take notice, let alone stop and join.  Some of the cars honked though.  I could have stayed longer had I known that our bus to Dallas was going to depart 3 hours late, but as it was I had to leave at 2 pm.  Denise said she planned to come and stand whenever she had time to do so.   Her father called her while she was standing and he passed along his solidarity.  Had I found the protest on Sunday I doubt I would have come to the Capitol in the rain on Monday, but I am glad I did because it made a difference to two people who were prepared to stand even if no one else was there.

Austin Capitol Trayvon3b

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Reflections

ask not for whom the bell tolls

(note written in response to discussion regarding support for peace march)

by LS Aravinda on Sat Mar 19, 2005 12:24 pm
As important if not more important than the work we do in India is the work we do in the US, raising these issues and seeking insights sincerely. We are not one of those organisations who merely says, here is a thousand dollars, go march. We aim to understand and address the tough problems of poverty and underdevelopment, the kinds that plunge us into the midst of questions that compel us to think from new perspectives. I wish that we would take up this level of discussion with reference to more of the projects that we support. Indeed, discussions such as this ARE the heart and lifeblood of AID.

wrt peace march i have no doubt that the folks marching share these concerns, and in fact are propelled by them to march. in general, we should take seriously our role as volunteers to take part in debates on the various development areas in which we intervene. such debate should not prevent us from getting involved, but should be part of our involvement. village level workers and affected people genuinely value this dimension of our contribution to the cause, as they have told us often..

it always happens after long days of inspecting rehabilitation sites and seeking documents from offices, riding back in the train or jeep we will ask ourselves, “is it worth it, what will we achieve, should we have done x or y ….” or after campaigning for every BPL family to receive their correct ration card and full supply of rations, we will also ask ourselves whether this is a system even worth fighting for. the same quandaries may apply to a school or health clinic, or any number of programs. when we look at the issues in the abstract we can easily be convinced to do nothing.

i always find it helps to share my doubts with those who are involved in the programs at the village level. never underestimate their perception of the complexities and paradoxes involved.

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