What do you do?

by Lauren Eggert-Crowe

I’m never quite sure how to answer the question, “What do you do?” There are a few answers, depending on who’s asking. I’m an executive assistant at a Jewish anti-hunger nonprofit. This is where I spend the majority of my time and what takes up most of my brainspace. I’m also a writer, but I don’t write as often as I’d like to. My work in the literary community is often heavy on the social aspect. I support my friends at literary events. I organize readings and Women Who Submit submission parties. I forge connections and put in the effort to build community.

I started this job at the very beginning of the second Obama administration. Over the years I’ve sometimes found it difficult to marry the two halves of my life. I spend my weeks assisting the operations of a non-profit, and spend my evenings and weekends trafficking in book talk, fielding 10-25 reading invites a week. I listen to author talks, I donate money to the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, I read my friends’ books and I promote their successes on social media.

Two things happened to me this year that re-aligned my perspective on both my paid career and my unpaid career. The first was personal. The second was global.

A long relationship ended in February, and propelled me into deeper work in the Los Angeles literary community. Part of the reason was because I had more free time. But I also realized that I had been sacrificing community engagement for the relationship, and I wanted to correct that. I began serving on the Women Who Submit leadership team, helping make decisions about fundraising, events, and the direction of the organization. I also started hosting my own literary events; including a Summer Solstice reading in my own backyard, featuring five women writers I admired; and a literary tribute to Prince, co-produced with WWS leader Ramona Gonzales, which raised money for #BlackLivesMatter and Kid City and featured amazing writers and musicians. Nine months later, I can say 2016 was the year that my connection the L.A. literary community really gelled.

Intellectually, I know that all issues are connected. But it can be hard to feel that connection on the ground level sometimes.

Then the 2016 Presidential Election happened. Swirling in with the feelings of anger, hopelessness, and fear, were the big, difficult questions: What do we do now? How do we keep organizing? How can we continue working for justice on the macro and micro scale? How can I effect community change when I am just one person?

It can be difficult to resist the feeling that the only way to accomplish anything is to run around like chickens with our heads cut off, flailing randomly at every problem, trying to do everything at once. But the history of social movements tells us that change is made when each individual person does what they can and taps into the large collective power of community organizing to work for justice and equality. That’s why during the week of November 8th I felt so proud and fortunate to be a part of Women Who Submit and to work for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Giving my time and energy to these two organizations is one concrete action I can take to work for the changes I wish to see in the world. And I’m not working alone, but alongside people using their collective power to build community, change policy, sway public attitudes, and create a circle of empowerment.

At Women Who Submit, I support our efforts to empower women and gender-nonconforming writers to submit their writing, thereby beginning to tip the gender balance in publishing. I speak out about bias, privilege and oppression in the publishing world and try to amplify the voices who have been marginalized in mainstream literature and culture. I follow the strong leadership of women of color, I read our blog to educate myself on the struggles and joys of LGBTQ writers, working class writers, and writers with disabilities. And I believe that the kind of community WWS seeks to create is a light in the darkness.

I believe in the work we are doing. In September, I hosted the L.A. meetup for our Annual Submission Blitz. Over 20 women showed up at my neighborhood bar. We took over the place! There were so many of us the bartender gave us his personal hotspot password in addition to the bar’s wifi. Many of the women were new to WWS, but before long, everyone was socializing, sharing submission tips, and cheering each other on. It was heartening and inspiring to witness. And this was just one of the many moments I’ve shared with the great people in this organization. Now more than ever, it is crucial to center the art made by women, by people of color, by queer and trans writers, by writers with disabilities.

At MAZON, I support my organization’s advocacy efforts to end hunger. MAZON is doing such important work in educating the public about the reality of hunger and advocating for local, state, and federal policies that support the most vulnerable in the U.S. We work to protect and strengthen federal nutrition programs, including SNAP. We create strategic initiatives to advocate for some of the specific communities hardest hit by food-insecurity: veterans, seniors, rural, and Native American communities. We just launched an amazing traveling exhibit called This is Hunger, which will travel around the country for 10 months, to “illuminate the profound prevalence of hunger in America, encourage us to raise our voices on behalf of the 42.2 million Americans who struggle with hunger every day, and ignite our community’s commitment to end hunger once and for all.” Now more than ever, it is crucial to advocate for the people who will be affected the most if government policies around hunger and poverty change.

Art advocacy and hunger advocacy can seem so divergent. One can almost seem trivial compared to the other. But they are linked. Millions of creative voices are stifled by the constant struggle of food-insecurity. 13 million children who would otherwise be learning and creating every day, whose brains should be fired up with electric sparks of inspiration, spend their school days with growling stomachs and unfocused minds. 1 in 8 Americans struggles with hunger, and this can affect all aspects of their lives. At MAZON, we advocate for public policies that address hunger and its causes. I envision a world where no one goes hungry, and everyone has the potential to use their voices to contribute to the world. And at Women Who Submit, we work to make sure those voices are heard.

So what do I do? I work at MAZON, and I’m a writer.

Lauren Seated Looking at Camera

Lauren Eggert-Crowe is the author of four poetry chapbooks. She is the Reviews Editor of Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments and serves on the leadership team for Women Who Submit.

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