Going Slow to Go Fast — Diary of a Baba
Diary of a Baba
Posted on February 11, 2020
As simple as it sounds, “going slow to go fast,” about sums up the feeling of coming back. This is also what I’m bringing back from Vietnam and the struggles of the Vietnamese people.
It has been over a month since we’ve returned. Besides the jet lag, logistics of moving back into the home, and the household being sick, I’m feeling deep gratitude and I’m hella proud of what we did. Yah!!!
I took about 2 weeks to ease back into the transition. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I just knew we needed to take things slow, it is just like physics… once you set the things in motion, the momentum builds and things just move faster and faster. But here are some of the things I didn’t expect…
Back to (pre)school.
Re-integrating Collin back into pre-school took a bit of work and patience. He needed to catch up a bit and was behind in some of his writing and responsibilities at the school, which totally makes sense. I mean 6 months is about 10% of his five years of life!
The drop-off routine turned into 30 minutes every morning. I started to support him in writing his daily contract, which consists of writing his name and the date. He also has new responsibilities around the school.
This month, he is in charge of making sure every students has 3 pieces of art paper in their cubby. This sounds relatively simple but it is totally more complex. He needs to count how many papers are needed, and then be super focused to put paper into each cubby.
Let me tell you…. It was so S L O W in the beginning. He was easily distracted by the other kiddos and so meticulous (I mean very meticulous) but he was really committed to the job! Over time, I began to appreciate his progress and intentionality. After 2 weeks, it went down to 15 mins and by the end of the month, he did everything on his own. Drop-offs are now only 5 minutes!
(Caption: Images of Collin in front of the art cubbys at his preschool; Collin writing his contract in the morning at a table; and one of Collin’s drawings of a polar bear!)
Some things change and some stay the same.
I remember when I went to China to study abroad in 2003 for a year (after 8+ years of organizing in San Diego). It was the same year that the US launched its war against Iraq. It was also the year of SARS in China, which should be another blog given the xenophobia and hysteria around the coronavirus.
At the time, someone told me that it was not a good time to leave and that should STAY in the US because it was the “pinnacle” of the anti-war movement. I’m SO glad I trusted my gut. I knew I was worn down and very close to burn out. It turns out the war was 8 years (and then some) until US withdrawal. When I returned in 2004, I was less wretched (and ragged) for sure but more importantly, I had greater clarity of purpose.
SO… for this sabbatical, there was some muscle memory on what it would take to rest, reflect and recover. Within hours of my first week back at work, I saw the pace of work and felt everyone’s fatigue and exhaustion. It was like slow motion. It made me think about the well-being of the movement, the people on the ground and the people around those people.
We need new ways for more people to rotate in and out and we need to do it in greater frequency. Whatever happens in 2020, we have a LONG way to go to undo the harm from Trump and Trumpism. How do we grind in moment and sustain ourselves for more than just a few campaigns? In the meantime, I’m doing my best to step in and step up in 2020 and I’m sending love and positive vibes to all the good people who’ve been on the frontlines <3.
I’m a different person.
As some have said, I’ve changed (literally and physically). And, it is true. but I didn’t realize that it was so apparent.
First, and maybe the most obvious, I lost 20 pounds, which I sorta expected. This is what happens when you actually exercise, eat non-US size portions and sweat (like a lot). Also, growing up, I was a chunky kid and went through various stages. I’ve definitely felt that body shaming and have felt the privilege of being leaner. It is all good information (and I have receipts!)
(Bottom right: Picture of me in 5th grade with chubby cheeks and short hair; Left: Picture of me and homies from San Diego day 2002 – Jon Salunga and Daniel Kato, who recently passed. I had long hair and was much bigger; Top Right: Selfie of me and Jose Bravo, environmental justice movement OG, from this weekend)
As I alluded to a couple times, I also have new found inspiration from the will and strategy of the Vietnamese people. Imagine fighting Chinese domination for 1000 years, then 1000 years of the building up the nation state, only to fight French and American occupation for another 100 years. NO other country has ever defeated all these nations, especially China and the US.
I know that most of the time people could NOT “go slow” but it is a reminder of that long visionary arch while fighting defensive battles (for decades or hundreds of years). There is something so deep about this to me. We can learn a lot from the Vietnamese people to inform our 21st century strategies.
More than anything, I return feeling humbled and hopeful. I feel the ABUNDANCE of possibilities being in the US and the strategic role of our privilege. Not only does real global solidarity and internationalism demand this of us, there is a lot to do and plenty of positions to play.
The sabbatical non-sabbatical effect.
Before I left (and even now), people are a bit confused, confused about what I just did. And it makes sense. Did I leave my job? Am I unemployed? What am I really doing now? I’m calling this the sabbatical non sabbatical effect. Since I wasn’t coming back as the ED of the same organization, some didn’t see this as a real sabbatical because It didn’t fit into a linear non-profit and leadership logic. Go figure.
SO just to be clear, I have a role (and job). I’m the executive director of the Center for Empowered Politics. A major part of my role, which I love, is supporting and coaching CPA and a set of organizations that I helped to start the last 15 years. I also get to train up people and organizations around building healthy and strong organizations and ecosystems. I’ll also be documenting movement history and strategy, including my past work.
This is not the most conventional path but I think it should be. For many of us who have spent over 10-15 years in the work, we don’t want to “leave” the movement. This role not only fulfills my purpose but is also a movement need. I’m down to make the sabbatical non sabbatical the norm. I know its catching on too. Many have reached out about how I pulled this off. The quick answer is that It took a village and an ecosystem. We are not in a world of conventional wisdom and gotta keep trying new things.
My Anthem for 2020
“Going slow to go fast” is going to be my anthem in 2020. There is a lot at stake and we got a lot of ground to cover. We gotta seed the vote, align and defeat Trump. We gotta build up our people and infrastructure beyond 2020. In between all this we gotta remember to take care of ourselves and each other and inspire more people into the movement. As the momentum for 2020 builds, I’m embracing all this and remembering to go slow to go fast. But, most importantly, I want to look back 10 years from now when Collin is in high school and be able to say that I (and we) did our very best in this current moment to really kick some ass in 2020 (and beyond!).
(Left: Image of Collin at one of our favorite parks in Oakland. He is wearing his helmet and resting on his balance bike facing the playground; Right: Selfie of me and Collin inside the house. He is wearing a awesome Coleman Advocates t-shirt and I’m wearing a serve the people t-shirt)
thanks alex for your writing and reflection. i love reading your thoughts