Will Lawrence, Swarthmore '13

To my fellow young activists, artists and organizers:

I’m a recent alumnus of Swarthmore College, where I co-founded the fossil fuel divestment campaign and worked on it for three years.

The spring leading up to graduation, five classmates and I decided to continue organizing together after school. We didn’t know exactly what or how. We moved to the city, found part-time work to pay bills, and started getting to know as many people as possible in the social justice world. After 6 months, when we were ready to give ourselves a name, we became the Maypop Collective for Climate and Economic Justice. Now, we’re supporting a new campaign to stop Philadelphia from becoming a fossil fuel refining and export hub.

Organizing for social change is the joy of my life. Honestly, I feel like a little kid who got his wish to be a firefighter or an astronaut or a baseball player. (Yea, I was that kid.) Every day I wake up and do the thing that I want to be doing more than anything in the world.

I’ve made challenging life choices in order to do the thing I love most. I chose to stay here in Philadelphia, rather than move home to Michigan, because I knew it was more important to be with the right people than in exactly the right place. I asked an older movement-supportive couple if I could live in their guest room for free, so I could prioritize volunteer organizing instead of making rent (they said yes!).

For a while, I struggled to explain my life to people I met, especially older folks. It would go something like this…

Them: “Where are you working?”

Me: “Well, I work part-time when I need money, but I don’t prioritize that. I spend most of my time on unpaid work for social change, mostly around environmental issues. I love it.”

Them: “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find something soon.”

But this one woman, she got it. She said, “Oh, I see. You have a calling.”

That struck me. I have a calling to work for social change. This is religious language; my secular-ish upbringing means I never would have thought of the phrase on my own. I believe it, though. I believe we are called by these times to be extraordinary people. The world is changing so fast. Our task is not to fight the change, but to shape it. To change the world, and be changed by it. We will be transitional beings, or we will be relics.

There are a thousand ways to explain or justify the calling. Stories from my past, visions of the future. That’s all valuable, and there’s a place for all of it. But before any of that, for me, there’s a feeling: This is what I must do.

To everyone leaving school and deciding what comes next: If you’re wondering if you should commit to organizing post-graduation, the answer is yes. You don’t need to know exactly why. You don’t need to know exactly how. You have a movement at your back to help with the financial and logistical questions. My experience, and what I’ve seen in other people, is that the rest will figure itself out once you set the intention.

This work is so damn important, and I can’t imagine a more fulfilling way to live one’s life.

 For the long haul,

William Lawrence

Swarthmore College ‘13