• Erica Rosi Tham

Two Sides? No, There is a Third Way

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

Those who would divide and create conflict want us to see only two extreme options: either the protest continues, or it fails. However, adoptive parents, teachers, social workers can testify to this truth: while social movements may begin with protests, they are won in the day to day work of heartfelt activism.

I attended the WTO protests in Seattle twenty years ago. If I remember right, it lasted about one week, and I was one of many wandering the streets of Seattle’s downtown and listening to the speeches of organizers.

I remember how empowering it felt to be there.

Anyway, the WTO protest ended, and I became an English language teacher at a refugee resettlement office. Because I had a background in phonics, my specialty was the teaching of literacy to farming peoples from Somalia, Ethiopia and Vietnam. I worked hard at this office for ten years.

Last year, my husband and I began the very tough work of applying as prospective adoptive parents. Currently, everything is uncertain, but our plan was to give the remaining years of our lives to two older kids from India. Older kids are not the easiest, and while we are blessed with well-paying jobs, we have a long-term mortgage and some credit card debt. We were preparing to take on the stress of medical costs and the day-to-day challenges of providing while bonding and parenting.

WTO protesting, refugee work, and adoption work—which was or could be the greatest contribution?

Over 500 people passed through my English language classes. I remember one day a coworker pointed out that the students had dressed up to come to class. We joked together about how they were not getting out enough. However, his comment opened my eyes, and I began noticing just how much the students appreciated the classes—what a compliment that they would choose to wear special clothes. I believe that we all find refuge in the simple spaces where we can gather every day and enjoy each other’s company. Overall, I believe that work far outweighed my week in the streets of Seattle.

And I believe adopting children—if we are given this chance—will be a far greater opportunity to make a difference. How hard must it be to be a person without parents, without a home of one’s own? Statistics show that orphans are more likely to become homeless later in life.

A simple suggestion: if you know people who are engaging in the ongoing protests, remind them that the real work lies ahead. During the emotional rush of protesting, people think to themselves, this is so much better than what we did before, our boring jobs—this is living! But is it? Based on my own life experience, it is not, not at all.

Living begins when the street party ends. I have known several sixties protesters; they were all teachers, at least one in elementary school, another in high school and one in college. When a person is really a part of your life—when you can observe that person’s choices regularly and you come to admire that person’s integrity—that is when your life is changed through the work and love of another. These teachers strongly contributed to my choice to teach which ultimately led to my refugee work.

I hope those at the CHOP zone in Seattle choose to return this space to the local residents and small business owners. And I hope those that feel the calling enjoy long lives of true activism. I hope they find work as teachers, social workers, and as adoptive parents.

One final note—some of my friends have complained of fear because online it seems that the support for CHOP is strong. Those of us who are employed need to remember that many protesters are unemployed which means they have a lot of hours on their hands. Yesterday, a Seattle resident whose apartment is in the CHOP zone complained of fearing for her life on, and her comment was immediately answered by a protester who said she had nothing to fear and she would realize that if she joined them. This was one day after the shooting inside CHOP that killed one person and critically injured another. Six shots were fired in the night. Would you choose to join the protest group that has taken over the street in front of your house after waking in the middle of the night to gunshots?

Through this blog, I am still working to adopt our kids. I am doing my part to lessen social unrest so that our case will be approved by CARA. I know I can never persuade a protester who would respond to a local resident's fear in that way. That person is temporarily lost to extremist thinking. However, I believe we can work to influence those who joined the movement for the right reasons and who do not have the extremist tendency. We can tell them they did good work for a good cause, but now the work has been done; it is imprinted in everyone’s minds. No one will forget this year. It is time to let the aggressive protesting go and move forward with real activism: teaching, social services, adoption, writing, so many possibilities. Let’s all try to persuade them, one person at a time.

Erica Rosi Tham

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