Truth to power

In the days following the 2016 presidential election, like so many others across the country I struggled to make sense of the unfathomable – that a depraved, truth-denying narcissist was headed to the Oval Office.

When the song “Teach Your Children Well” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young came on the radio while I was driving to my neighborhood coffee shop during that 2016 post-election malaise, I pulled my SUV to the curb and cried. The lyrics felt like my own personal anthem in those suspended moments, my emotions scraped raw against ragged edges of haunts that I couldn’t shake: What kind of world are we handing over to our children? How could we let this happen?

I don’t know how long I sat motionless in that vehicle, but it was a good long time. With my kids then 17 and 20, the election seemed more critical to their futures than to mine. But it felt like we all had lost, and lost so much.

But now, in the days after the 2018 elections, I have found reasons to believe in the future. And in honesty, hard work, virtue, values and sacrifice.

Exchanging texts with kindred spirits while results came in during the wee hours of the morning after the midterms, a journalist friend told me she loved reading a pre-election call to arms my daughter had posted on Facebook. I hadn’t seen it. I took a break from West Coast returns to read it.

It was a revelation. And an inspiration.

My daughter isn’t waiting for me to hand her a better world. She learned the nuts and bolts of campaigning and lobbying during a fellowship in U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin’s “Democracy Summer” program in 2018. After that, she stayed busy canvassing, phone-banking and texting targeted voters in key races. It’s clear she is doing a lot of thinking about political purpose as well.

She told me she wrote the Facebook piece in the early hours of Election Day.

“I was restless,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep. It was the middle of the night. I don’t really know where it came from.”

I know where it came from – it came from her heart.

I’m proud to share her thoughts and insights here:

… we must stand up and refuse to sit down, speak out and refuse to be silenced, march and refuse to stop walking, vote and refuse to be intimidated.

To my fellow young people,

I’ve thought a lot about why it is so important that we defy expectations of our generation and vote in this election.

America, historically, has been at its best when its people have come together, looked at their world and said “we can do better,” then put in the work to build that better future.

I’m talking about the Civil Rights movement, when peaceful protesters, following Dr. King’s honorable example, endured racist taunts and physical violence for sitting at lunch counters, but never lost their resolve, when Rosa Parks refused to be marginalized any longer, when Freedom Riders in the Deep South, knowing they would be arrested, risked their lives to assert their right to exist as full members of American society, and when John Lewis and his fellow activists were brutally beaten during their march from Selma to Montgomery, yet still found the strength and the courage to continue fighting for the rights that they should have been inherently guaranteed as human beings on this Earth .

I’m talking about the Women’s March, when women across the country and around the world turned a moment of political defeat into a movement of political power, taking to the streets and refusing to be silenced, chanting “We will not go away, welcome to your first day” at the gates of the White House.

I’m talking about the March For Our Lives movement – when young people, many of them younger than me, got fed up with no end in sight to the litany of senseless tragedy after senseless tragedy, turning out in huge numbers to demand an immediate end to gun violence.

I’m talking about Colin Kaepernick risking his career and his future to take a knee to peacefully draw the country’s attention to the problem of institutional racism that has led to alarming numbers of unarmed black people being killed without their killers being held accountable, without justice being served.

There is no denying that the American Dream in the United States today remains just that – a dream, out of reach to a plurality, if not a majority of people. This administration is separating immigrant children from their parents, putting kids in literal cages at the border. The Republican-controlled Congress persists in refusing to pass common sense gun reforms to curtail the country’s staggering rates of gun violence, violence unparalleled in any other developed country in the world. GovTrack.us rates existing gun reform bills – proposed by Democrats in Congress – as having a measly 1%-4% chance of being passed.

The institution of the free press, without which no society can truly be free, is under constant attack. In the wake of Shelby County v. Holder, Republican-controlled state legislatures still persist in passing stringent voter-ID laws clearly aimed at disenfranchising minority communities. Indigenous people are marginalized in American society, caricatured and culturally appropriated in popular culture, disproportionately incarcerated in the criminal justice system, and routinely stripped of their land by federal and state governments. The damaging and useless “War on Drugs” rages on, fueling the mass incarceration in disproportionate numbers of minorities from dispossessed communities, a form of systemic racism author Michelle Alexander calls “The New Jim Crow.”

What can we do about all these problems?

We start by voting.

Standing on the shoulders of the leaders and the activists who have paved the way before us, using the rights that many of them died for us to have, we must stand up and refuse to sit down, speak out and refuse to be silenced, march and refuse to stop walking, vote and refuse to be intimidated.

We vote for leaders who will represent us. All of us.

We vote for leaders who will listen to us. All of us.

We vote for leaders who will bring us the change that we so desperately need, change we so richly deserve.

And then we pay attention. We watch. We hold these leaders accountable. We make sure they stay true to their promises, true to the very heart of the inspiration they have instilled in us.

Donald Trump, his administration, and the enabling Republicans in Congress who are trying so hard to keep America from attaining the American Dream are relying on young people to be apathetic and stay home from the polls. We can’t give them that. This is our country too, and it’s time to show them that.

I am 19 years old. This is my first time as a voter in a general election. After the 2016 elections, it sometimes seemed my chance to vote would never arrive. Finally, this fall, I filled out my absentee ballot and sent it home to election officials, tracking its journey so I would know it arrived well before the deadline.

I voted a straight-ticket Democratic Party ballot in this election and encourage everyone else to do the same. My reasoning: The Republicans in power have shown they do not represent, or care to represent, the true desires and needs of the modern American populace. They don’t want to push our country to do better and be better like the American heroes I spoke of earlier. They want to unravel the progress we’ve made and make it harder for us to create a better future. Without change, the Republicans will leave it to us, the young people of America, to build a future on a shaky foundation weakened by corruption, fraud, disappearing opportunities, denial of truth, hate and obstruction of justice.

There is too much at stake for us to be apathetic. Our country needs us to vote, to make our voices heard. And then, our country will need us to speak up again and again, to hold leadership accountable, to be the driving force of social change in our society, no matter what obstacles we may face.

In the inspiring words of the March For Our Lives founders: “The young people will win.”