Spotlight on: Jack Hill
AmeriCorps Fellow, Community Engagement – San Francisco
Downtown Streets Team
Long called out as being a radical, Caesar Chavez’s struggle to organize a community to stand up to oppression is not radical, it is our calling as engaged individuals. And when we organize together to fight oppression, to lift up our neighbor, to “be a man and suffer for others,” we realize his calling to organize is not some battle cry from the far left but an urging to lift us all through the value of hard work. Volunteerism is epitome of this urging, to submit fully and freely for a cause which you have no solution. Volunteerism is giving yourself to a cause, asking to be organized by experts to fill a niche and serve a larger good. In many ways, Caesar Chavez’s call to organize is no different than the call to volunteer, to pool or corporate resources and to struggle for the common man.
This corporate volunteerism, this Chavezian organization, can lead many volunteers disenchanted with the process. Before reflection, I felt this way myself on Monday (Caesar Chavez Day). I had the opportunity to engage with St. Anthony’s of San Francisco, an organization that, among other things, provides a hot meal to individuals experiencing homelessness. In San Francisco, this is a massive operation, requiring the organization of volunteers and their supervisors to ensure each individual who passes through the door is allowed to stay and eat. I went in expecting (obviously naively) to run the show, perhaps going as far as curating the menu, but certainly to be nothing less than a sous chef. When I was tasked with opening and breaking down boxes of Hostess Ho-Hoes for three straight hours, I was naturally disappointed. Working alongside with a student from The Côte d’Ivoire, we went through a palette of Ho-Hoes, filling buckets with cavity-inducing cakes that would make a dentist cringe.
I left with a broken nail and a feeling of nothing having been accomplished. After all, I hadn’t seen a single person fed nor did I even see the benefit of giving people nutrionless, processed cakes. (Of course I was salivating over my own lunch, a lunch where no one would judge what I chose to eat). In a word, it seemed emotionless. Industrial. Uncaring and lacking in empathy. Here I was trying to honor a man who fought for the underrepresented, and I didn’t even see them represented in my volunteering.
But then reflecting on this notion of organization, that “the fight is never about grapes or lettuce; it is always about people,” I realized that this effort of volunteerism was quite appropriate for the day. Because at the end of the day, it was the idea of submitting yourself to be simply an instrument of larger organization and to put faith that those who know the issues will be able to utilize my box opening talents to open doors and hearts. After all, who was I to say that my talents weren’t being organized in the best way—at that moment, they were.
These individuals, objectively lacking any luxury, benefited form a simple cake, and if I was able to take off any burden in an organization attempting to empower these people, then of course I was happy to volunteer. So in organizing, and letting myself be organized, I honored that truest message of Caesar Chavez, that together we can. I would call on anyone next spring to follow suit, and in organizing ourselves for just a day, we remember this giant of a man.