Recently I went to downtown LA to walk around and eventually find a calm and quiet place to write out the main points I got out of this book called “Blue Like Jazz.” I was thinking of making camp at a coffee shop in the Little Tokyo, so that was my original destination. Once I arrived there I decided to walk through the shops just refresh the mind and to see if anything new has popped up. The thing about walking in and around Downtown is that you occasionally bump into people advocating for some organization and then ensues the awkward behavior of not making eye contact, walking quicker than normal, or acting like your busy on the phone. These tactics usually work, especially when there are other people around you, but on this day I found myself hardly surrounded by other visitors and so avoiding them became that much harder.
There were two white males, wearing a yellow shirt standing not that part apart. The one closest to me spotted me. He tried making eye contact with me at first. I looked the other way hoping he’d get the hint. He didn’t. He proceeded to try to engage me in a conversation. He started off with naming the organization he represented and kindly asked if I had a moment of time to give him. I kindly and in a rush said, “Sorry I don’t.” Writing it out makes me realize how much a douche I sometimes sound. As I walked away I felt I felt disappointed with how I handled the situation. Even though I did not really want to engage in a conversation, he was just doing his job and he at least deserves to be treated kindly. I though I was clear of having to deal with these type of awkward situations. I’m really bad in social situations.
I walk around the shopping center with no real intent on going inside the shop. My head turning right to left, left to right not really looking for something in particular but hoping something would catch my eye. Finally satiating my thirst to be social without being social, I start making my way to the coffee shop. I take a minor pause. In front of me was standing two other advocates with yellow shirts. There was no crowd to hide behind nor a group of people. I decide to just try to walk right through the advocate. It didn’t work. She was wearing a grey beanie. Her smile also made a impression on me. She seemed really warm and kind. She started talking about Amnesty International and the type of work the organization does. By this point I have given up on the idea of just abruptly and rudely saying “sorry I have to go” and so I give her my full attention. I make sure I make eye contact as much as possible. I also make an effort to align my body in her direction and not give off the impression that I just want to leave. She continues to talk about Amnesty International and I continue to occasionally nod. In all honesty I do know who Amnesty International is and I do think that they do really great work.
She eventually reaches the point of conversation that she has been leading to this entire time: “Can I get you to become a member? It will only be $15 dollars a month and your support is really needed.” I kindly reiterate that I believe the organization does fantastic work but unfortunately I can’t donate right now. She asks me “why is that?” I reply, “Well I currently don’t have a job so I don’t think I’m in a position to donate.” She continues for the next 5 minutes trying to convince me to make the effort. I still kindly declined. She parted ways with me by saying “Well thank you for hearing me out.”I sometimes just want to let them talk to me just so that they can talk. I can see them being ignored and rejected a lot of the time, which for me would probably be highly demoralizing. So I’m probably doing a disservice to them by doing this but I want them to feel like their voices and causes matter. Unfortunately for them, I still don’t end up donating money. Writing this out, I can see how I can come off like a douche at the end of the conversation.
I honestly do think Amnesty International is an organization that is needed. It does a lot of good in the world. As I walked away I really had this “Coming to Jesus” moment where I asked myself, “If I really believe in this, why don’t I donate $15 monthly?” I can probably think of ways to cut $15 dollars off my normal expenses. So why didn’t I commit? I recently read in that book I talked about in the beginning (Blue Like Jazz) that your actions are what truly speak your beliefs. Not your words but what you do with your life and how you live it is what will speak out loud what you hold to be true to you. And so I walked away feeling conflicted and disappointed in myself. I thought to myself, “I’m probably the worst kind of people they interact with. The ones that believe in what they stand for but yet don’t commit to do help the cause.” Couldn’t shake the parallels between me and what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said about the white moderate: “First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
Am I just paying lip service or actually seeking justice?