To See and Be Seen

On fatherhood, activism, and getting out of your own head.

To See and Be Seen
Members of ALBA and The Puffin Foundation present 18 by Vote with the year's Human Rights Activism Award.

As most of you who read these missives doubtlessly knows, Nicole and I became parents to twin daughters in February. As you can imagine, I haven't "gone out" much since then, unless I had a good reason. I went to see the new Ghostbusters movie for an article I wrote (and an essay on here, as well). I spent a lovely weekend upstate attending my brother's wedding. And, on Saturday, May 4, I attended the ALBA/Puffin Foundation's Human Rights Award ceremony.

One of these things is not like the other, but I walked away from it profoundly moved. My intention was ostensibly to try and shine a light on the good work the organizations are doing through some boundary-stretching local journalism. The reception instead unlocked the chance to get down some thoughts and feelings I've been sitting with in the last two months.

ALBA is the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, an educational nonprofit founded by veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of American volunteers who fought alongside freedom fighters in the Spanish Civil War. ALBA both preserves the testimonials of those veterans and helps foster educational initiatives that favor human rights and antifascist rhetoric. Every year, they partner with the Puffin Foundation to award a $100,000 grant to a human rights organization to aid them in putting in work to help communities. This year's recipient was 18 by Vote, a youth-led nonpartisan organization devoted to civic awareness and engagement. Previous recipients, including members of Indigenous Women Rising and No More Deaths, were also in attendance.

It's not hard to understand the value of all those organizations at present. We live in a time where it feels like fascism is creeping at everyone's back door, handled both by disingenuous actors and well-intentioned actors who are not being forceful enough. Our country is involved in a brutal Middle Eastern conflict that a majority of citizens don't seem to care for. Young people who definitely don't agree with it and are impassioned enough to speak out are subject to slander and assault, particularly in the city I live in. Our leaders condemn their bravery and organization, willfully misunderstanding that America was founded on discordant, dissenting protests like these and instead kissing up to an unnecessarily militarized police.

If you're on social media enough, you no doubt comprehend that these things are happening, and it all, quite often, feels unending and immovable. Outside, however, the members of ALBA and Puffin and 18 by Vote and Indigenous Women Rising and others mingled over light refreshments and enthusiasm toward working together in service of a shared, broad, ambitious cause: a better tomorrow for everyone.

My initial thought was to spotlight these organizations - particularly 18 by Vote - through the lenses of a national election I worry young people will have little interest in participating in, or better yet, New York's upcoming state primary, which is often an important race in itself. I'm not a terribly incisive reporter on things that aren't pop music-related, so I instead want to just share a few impressions left on me by some of the speeches I heard.

First, I must reiterate the inclusive tone of the entire event. We left-leaning, quite-online types can quickly find our patience eroding and no quarter offered to those who don't "get it," whatever "it" is. The crowd at this event was well split between my own peers and those who could be my parents or aunts or uncles. And here they are, offering support and solidarity and putting in the work to make our world a little brighter. The phrases I copied in my notebook from different speeches are all snippets of ideas that I feel we can all take to heart in troubled times: "to see beyond despair," "thinking about activism broadly," "changemaking can be done by anyone." This was beyond worth the logging off for the afternoon.

I was deeply impacted by a speech by ALBA board chair emeritus Kate Doyle, who discussed the significance of maintaining the archives and what it felt like "to see and be seen" through the work. Archivists and historians have always been people I admire most in my line of work, preserving a record of records and helping new generations glean insights into the present and future by way of the past. Working in various corporate structures of archival work can often feel like swatting a dead tree branch against a brick wall, but those five words really hit home and made me see even the more frivolous work I do with new eyes.

Perhaps most impactful were remarks by Indigenous Women Rising co-founder Rachel Guera-Cordero de Lorenzo, whose spunky, thoughtful commentary included an aside on "working inter-generationally" as an activist. "No one knows everything," she said, "but together, we know a lot."

I thought a lot about that idea through the lens of taking care of my kids. Twins are the greatest blessing I can imagine and the greatest challenge. You must be "on" all the time, whether tending to their basic functions, taking them to doctor's appointments, or trying to maintain order elsewhere in the household. It is not something most healthy relationships can trade off on - my wife taking certain shifts, then myself, for instance.

Add to the fact that I do not presently have a full-time job and am scraping freelance work together in the interim, and things inside my head can be a pressure cooker. Parenthood is a joy, but I'd be misrepresenting the truth if I only focused on that. Unlocking the mysteries of why one of them is crying after you've fed, burped, changed and held them for a length of time is a question I'd like to answer more incisively, and with less mood swings.

But de Lorenzo's words really hit me where I live, and unlocked waves of previously uncited gratitude: to Nicole for a decade of growth and limitless patience; my family for their unwavering support; friends who've taken time out of their busy lives to sit and admire the beauty of our children or roll up their sleeves and help get our errands under control; and especially to my daughters themselves, who will someday hopefully understand, at my conveyance, how their birth and lives are more significant than any other achievement I could name.

The work of organizations like ALBA, Puffin, 18 by Vote and the others is vast and challenging - a 300 million-legged race up the hill of progress. But it's also immediately enriching and gratifying if you take the time to sit back and think about what is possible. I walked away from the event proud to have bore witness and elated to imbue that positivity onto the napping spirits of my beautiful girls. Together, we know a lot.