I’ve written before of how I wanted nothing more than to get my right to vote when I turned 18, but how did that kid get to the person you have here, the budding activist? The person whose words you are reading? Let me tell you a story.
When I turned 18 in the 90’s I indeed was ready to vote in upcoming elections and take on the world. Then my life changed dramatically. At 18, I was a kid ready to start college. At 19 I was a father.
Undeterred I still went to college, but I learned some things along the way. Income tax terminology and grant requirements became common vocabulary to me. I learned how things like WIC, TennCare, and food stamps worked. I wouldn’t have graduated and wouldn’t have had a healthy family without them. That’s right, the dreaded idea of a social safety net helped me. I was pulling myself up by my bootstraps, but critical social programs provided me the boots.
Politically I voted, but only in major elections and never contributed, campaigned, or spoke of my views. By voting and voting alone I was “doing my part”. I was surviving college as a young father and considered myself fortunate. I fancied myself a social liberal but fiscal conservative, what I now acknowledge was, under my circumstances, a hypocritical view.
Thanks to loving parents and social systems that helped support my household, I was able to not only survive but thrive. I became a leader in the classroom and that followed me into my professional life. I have taken on leadership roles throughout my career and my teams were, and are, successful. Leadership, I have somewhat reluctantly recognized, is one of my skills.
Fast forward a few years and I was a single dad now in love with an amazing woman. She was (and still very much IS) a staunch liberal democrat. *Dramatic music* The transition begins.
I now voted in every election but still didn’t call, campaign, donate, or volunteer because again, I was just doing my part. I didn’t talk about my politics, I didn’t share my opinions, I just quietly did my minimal civic duty thinking it was enough.
Fast forward a few more years. My wife and I decided we wanted to expand our family in a non-traditional method. Adoption. Not only adoption, but from a foreign country. This is where things get interesting. We received a referral for a beautiful baby boy and scheduled our first trip. To a third world country. Where we didn’t speak the language. We didn’t care, this was how our family was to grow.
When we arrived in Guatemala, within moments, my entire wiring as a person changed. In a matter of days I viewed entire families living under a piece of metal leaned against a hillside. A 4 year old had come to me in the streets, with shame in her young eyes, asking me for money. I saw people starving, begging, hurting, and I changed. I realized how selfish I had been, how great we have it here, and how we as the most wealthy people in the history of the world had to change.
From that trip and the many more two adoption processes required, a different person returned home. One believing no one should be hungry, everyone should have healthcare, and the most fortunate among us (my family included in that description) have a moral obligation to society to give back more. I joined causes, gave money to charities, and started caring about far more than my little circle while pushing for social equality for all and fiscal programs to guide everyone to solid financial ground. Many would label those beliefs the ones of a progressive liberal democrat. I accept that label.
Guess what, I still just voted. I now talked about why I voted and who I voted for, but that’s it. Didn’t campaign, volunteer, or donate. I was making what would become a horrible mistake. I didn’t realize how I was enabling a divide.
Now we get to 2016, the tumultuous election. The unbelievably horrible human being that is Trump against the boring career politician that is Clinton. It was a no brainer. I voted but yet again didn’t campaign, didn’t volunteer, didn’t donate. No signs posted or public talk about why I felt the need to vote how I did. I continued to make my mistakes. I watched election night in guilty disbelief.
November 9th, 2016 was the second major re-wiring of me as a person. The failure that was the 2016 election was my fault. Not mine alone, but mine to bear with the others like me. You might be one of us as well. We failed our children, our families, our cities, states, and country. If you are like me, you do not take failure well.
I spent several months being angry and lashing out at people online, which I know was a huge mistake, but I needed time to process. Thinking more clearly, I moved to more productive outlets and started writing, calling, and faxing all levels of representation about all the major topics important to those with my shared beliefs. After several months, I was feeling the same frustrations and helplessness I felt right after the election. I live in a state where our beliefs and interests are not represented. Our discussions, requests, demands, and pleas are not acknowledged or heard by any level. Those moments produced my first understanding of what our women, minorities, LGBT, all our marginalized fellow people go through every single day. That marginalization must change.
I’m a successful person professionally. I’ve never had a failed project. My teams like me and look up to me as a mentor. That professional success is no longer enough. Too many people struggle, suffer, and feel as though they do not have a voice. We are living in a world that is not only unacceptable as-is, but is actively getting worse. I decided if I want to see things change I need to be part of making that change happen. Then the hard question came, what can I do??
I choose to become active in my community, to become active in social events, to donate, campaign, and speak for good candidates, to support just programs and protest the unjust, to run for an office. I’ll never give a speech that starts a revolution. I’ll never write an essay that ends up in the history books. I can however bring the years of problem solving, mentoring, and leadership I’ve had at a professional level to another field.
Starting now, it’s time for me to make that difference. I need to figure out what it looks like, then take steps to make it happen. I promise you, I will do exactly that.