Our sixth guest post on Mama Activism comes from the always thought-provoking Lisa Hassan Scott (find more of her words here) on her changing perceptions of activism before and after the advent of motherhood.
The woman you see before you is not the person I’ve always been. Before balancing this toddler on my hip, before wiping this child’s nose, before driving this older child to a meet-up with friends… before all this, I had a different life. I was an activist.
I spent my career working for the oppressed, for people who’d fled from oppressive regimes, from female genital mutilation, torture, imprisonment, rape. I worked with refugees, fighting their cases in court, supporting them through the labyrinth that is the British immigration system. Often the first person to hear their stories, I helped them to put their cases together, argued their side in court and assisted them in assembling evidence that would prove their claims.
Because I was often the first person they’d confided in, I came to know my clients intimately. I knew about the children they’d left behind. I knew their deeply held philosophical and political beliefs. I saw the physical scars left from their torture. I commissioned reports from experts and helped my clients access specialist mental health care for the emotional scars of their poor treatment. I visited them in prison and detention, listened to them share their fears. I went with them when they received the results of medical tests. I held their hands when they cried at hearing the results: HIV positive.
It wasn’t an easy job. My clients’ brokenness spilled over into the rest of my life. In the evening, I often stamped around the house, railing against the unfairness of the world. I wept bitter tears when I saw how these hopeful, frightened people were treated when they came to this country. To others they were, at worst, “benefits scroungers” or at best “economic migrants.” I remember people asking me what I did for a living, and the look of horror in some people’s eyes. At one party, a couple crossed the room to avoid speaking to me. I came to realise that I was dealing with the detritus of our society. My clients were human rubbish and society had thrown them away. They were unwanted: “not in my backyard.” Most people would sooner forget about them.
However passionately I felt about my work, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to combine this career with a family. It asked too much of me. I put too much of myself into it, but couldn’t do it half-heartedly. When I had my first child I decided to let it go. Fighting for the oppressed became a part of my history. It was something I used to do. Most people who know me now have little idea of the me I used to be.
But my commitment to refugees will never leave me, and I hope that I am passing it on to my children. I don’t need to take them to an anti-deportation rally to teach them about welcoming the stranger. We don’t need to discuss torture and oppression (yet) for them to understand about treating others in loving, respectful ways. I don’t need to tell them about the joys of working with people from all over the world for them to appreciate that difference is wonderful, not threatening.
I teach them these principles by modelling open, accepting attitudes. I teach them by treating visitors with hospitality. I teach them by saying hello to strangers in the street, talking to them about their lives and listening to what they have to share, regardless of their appearance. I teach them by yelling at the radio news and having animated discussions with family and friends. I teach them by parenting gently, respecting their needs and listening to them as much as I can with my whole heart. Above all, I teach them by living what I believe: that the slings and arrows borne by people in faraway places hurt us too because we are all connected, regardless of which passport each person holds.
Indeed, I’ve traded my briefcase and suit for a backpack full of nappies and banana-smeared jeans. I live a different life now, but I am still an activist at heart.
©2013 Lisa Hassan Scott.
Holger.Ellgaard - Raoul Wallenberg's briefcase in bronze, placed on the foundation to the summerhouse where he was born in 1912, in Kappsta, Lidingö
Waugsberg - Barbed wire (rusting after years of hard work)
You might also like these other fab posts in our Mama Activism series:
Activate Mama Bloggers (about Team HONK and Red Nose Day)