I’ve been sitting on these words for a while. A sense of urgency to get them out of my head, yet a hesitation stemming from the need to express them just right. So here we go…
I grew up in small town USA. I have called both the north and the south home. I spent the bulk of my adolescence as a minority liberal in a majority conservative town. I’ve seen almost half of the United States, at least 16 countries and 3 continents. I’ve studied two languages and many cultures. I never felt as though I lived in a bubble, and I was never sheltered from the realities of this world.
I’m a lucky one. I was told to open my eyes. From an early age my parents made sure we saw the world, through our eyes and the eyes of others. They instilled in us the innate understanding that all people are made to be loved. That skin color and gender and sexual identification and religion and ethnicity and ideology were never meant to divide us. That never would there be merit for us to look down upon another person as a lesser human.
Fast forward to me, today, age 23, living in the nation’s Capitol, working for a Democratic Senator, adorned with a Master’s degree in Global Affairs and inspired by a devotion to make the world better for those less fortunate.
This past November, I woke up in a bubble.
Despite my impassioned efforts to seek an understanding for every differing belief to my own, I fell into the bubble that determined our way was working.
I’ve questioned “our way” many times. But not near enough, as has become ever so clear in these past few months.
My work has been an uphill battle since the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. A battle that has been at times unbearably frustrating but simultaneously eye-opening. A battle that solidifies day in and out the brutal truth that we must work to cultivate a greater understanding of each of our neighbors, otherwise we risk a complete self-destruction of the delicately stable world we have worked so hard to achieve.
Now, not for one minute do I rejoice in the election of Trump. Despite my belief that his victory has stirred a new awakening, if you will, in the eyes of many Americans, I nonetheless believe his election has done, and will continue to do, exponentially more harm than good.
But I cannot help but recognize the potential for positive change these new circumstances could bring.
Each day at work, I fend off attacks from both sides of the isle. Liberal democrats upset, some even in tears, that our Democratic leaders are not doing more to stop Trump, that we are being weak, that we need to find our backbones and figure out how to have him impeached, that we must reject any congressional action until he fulfills their long list of requests – release his tax returns, cut ties with his private companies, appoint more sound cabinet members, etc. And conservatives upset as well, that we Democrats are not giving Trump a chance, that we are not listening to the half of America that enthusiastically put him in power, that we need to allow him to lead as he said he would and work with him in every way that we can.
The passion is overwhelming. And for me, someone who feels all things on an extremely personal level, the calls often hit cords deep inside my heart that say I’m not doing enough, why can’t I help these people more? Why can’t I assure them we are doing all we can to sustain the well being of this nation? But their words often ignite a sense of anger as well – an anger inspired by the fact that no matter how hard I try to explain to them our theories and methods of action, most respond with complete stubbornness. They won’t listen to anything they don’t want to hear.
So while I believe Washington, and other “coastal elite” cities that were so blindsided by this election, do indeed live in a bubble, I also think it’s time that the rest of the country branches out to understand the workings of Washington as well.
For too long there has been this separation between “political elite” and “everyday civilian.” They’ve come to live in two separate worlds. As citizens we expect perfection from the people we elect, but we also retreat to the comfort of our own lives pretty much every time outside of an election season, leaving the political elites to do the work as they please.
This newfound energy to call our representatives and vocalize our political beliefs and engage in politically inspired discussions and join in activist movements is incredibly important. But on the other hand of this awakening must be not only the ask – the ask of our representatives to listen and hear and act as we wish – but also the effort to engage with the political process and make efforts to understand the place that politicians and those surrounding them are coming from, and why they act as they do.
And if that understanding happens, and promises remain unfulfilled, than it lies on us to assume the responsibility of filling those elected seats when the time comes.
If I’ve learned anything from my short time in Washington so far, it’s that if you want real change to happen then it’s up to you to make it so. The system is incredibly difficult to navigate, progress often stagnant, and tensions at cut-throat highs. It’s not going to be easy – it never has been.
But we must not give up. Because this time, this moment, will go down in history as one of the most influential challenges our nation has ever faced.
We have the choice – down which path do we continue. One of opposition, or one of understanding? One of stagnation, perhaps even deterioration, or one of progress?
Whatever your political, moral or idealogical beliefs, you have a role here. Not only a role to speak, but a role to hear and to listen. A role that should not be optional, but rather a responsibility, an obligation – one that, as citizens of this nation we should want to execute. For the betterment of ourselves, the betterment of those around us, and the betterment of those to come.