Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day was a right on woman!

I’m not Catholic or anything, but Dorothy Day was pretty damn special. Ms. Day was an American journalist, social activist and devout Catholic convert; she advocated the Catholic economic theory of Distributism. She also described herself as a Christian anarchist. In the 1930s, Day worked closely with fellow activist Peter Maurin to establish the Catholic Worker movement, a nonviolent, pacifist movement that continues to combine direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent direct action on their behalf. She died in 1980.

I found these quotes from Dorothy Day after listening to Utah Phillips talk about Ammon Hennacy being her protege. Dorothy Day inspired Hennacy to found the “Joe Hill House” in Utah, where Phillips drifted to (after coming back from the Korean War) and stayed for 8 years, becoming a pacifist. Here’s a poster made by Hennacy.

Flyer by Ammon Hennacy

Flyer by Ammon Hennacy

And Utah Phillips, in turn, was a mentor to Ani DiFranco, who is one of my favorite folk singers.

Utah Phillips and Ani Difranco

Utah Phillips and Ani Difranco

So I kind of wanted to get a sense of her lineage. Dorothy Day is a suitable great-grandmother for Ani DiFranco. Behold these quotes.

On Community
“We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.”
-Dorothy Day

Isn’t this part of the reason we’re involved in nonprofits? To escape the long loneliness? To find our community which believes it can make the world better?

“Men are beginning to realize that they are not individuals but persons in society, that man alone is weak and adrift, that he must seek strength in common action.”
-Dorothy Day

How often do you give this message to people in your day to day life as a nonprofit communicator? Do you help them feel connected to a greater sense of purpose? A group of people who care about the same thing they care about? Don’t take your position lightly. You are helping people find more significance in their lives by connecting your mission to what they want to see accomplished in the world before they die.

On Measuring Nonprofit Effectiveness

“Don’t worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.” — Dorothy Day

I think what Dorothy Day meant here was that there is a truth in each of us that cannot be denied. Maybe this truth demands that you work for social justice. Or the environment. Or community arts and theater. Whatever your truth is, keep to it. Even if the structure you’re in is not supporting you, you can work outside the structure and still be faithful to your truth.

“People say, “What is the sense of our small effort?” They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.” — Dorothy Day

I used to have a teacher who would say, “Every little step is a big step.” People get frustrated with social change and with social movements because our lifespans are so relatively limited, that we cannot see the instant gratifying results we want as a result of our hard work.

This is what is wrong with demanding instant outcomes from grants and other forms of money given by people. Social change takes years. It can take decades and other false packages. If you’re looking for what is truly effective in a nonprofit, you have to look at a community from many different angles, and over a long period of time.

On Who To Trust

“I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.” -Dorothy Day

Nonprofits that are actually doing the work will survive. Nonprofits that are all talk will fail. People in the community trust a nonprofit that they can see is doing the necessary work. And they will support that nonprofit. So if you’re stuck in a nonprofit that is actually not doing anything, just get out. Find a nonprofit that really IS doing something. Don’t trust people and their words blindly. Watch what they do. This goes for potential partners, all the way up to the President. Just watch their actions and you’ll see what they’re really about.

“The greatest challenge of the day is: How to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?” -Dorothy Day

“We believe in loving our brothers regardless of race, color or creed and we believe in showing this love by working for better conditions immediately and the ultimate owning by the workers of their means of production.” -Dorothy Day

Imagine if each nonprofit was a worker owned cooperative. Imagine with each grant that came in, and each dollar, the collective as a whole got richer. Imagine how easy it would be to turn everyone into a fundraiser in that environment. Yeah, pretty nice, isn’t it? Do you know any nonprofit collectives?

On Work

“You will know your vocation by the joy that it brings you. You will know. You will know when it’s right.” — Dorothy Day

“Writing is hard work. But if you want to become a writer you will become one. Nothing will stop you.” — Dorothy Day

“Words are as strong and powerful as bombs, as napalm.” -Dorothy Day

Words and their power fascinate me. I put these quotes in last as a reminder to myself and any other woman reading this who loves to write. If writing brings you joy, then it IS your vocation, whether it’s a grant, an appeal letter, an e-newsletter, or a novel or poem. Even your diary entries count as writing. So if you love to write, whoever you are, keep writing.

What did you think of Dorothy Day’s quotes? Please leave a comment.