At the end of January and again at the beginning of February, I spent ten days in the hospital. I took a bit of a break from my normal hyper-consumption of political news and, when I dipped my toe back in, I found that the fire hose of cacophony that I had been drinking from before my illness had only intensified. I have found myself struggling to choose what to write about here on the blog and where to focus my activism in general.
Do I write about a presidential administration that seems to keep just one step ahead of being exposed for grifters that they are?
- Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and his $31,000 desk to lead a department where massive cuts have been proposed to those getting housing assistance?
- EPA chief Scott Pruitt having to be shamed into not flying First Class everywhere he goes?
- Multiple Trump campaign and administration officials under investigation for money laundering, influence peddling, and a whole host of other un-American crimes?
- The president’s own son, Jared Kushner, losing his Top Secret security clearance because he’s so deep in debt that he’s a likely target for foreign manipulation, even as he has used his position at the White House to garner personal loans to keep his House of Cards from collapsing?
Do I write about a nation paralyzed by gun violence and mass shootings? About a nation…
- …so tightly in the grip of the National Rifle Association that not only are stricter laws on gun ownership seemingly impossible to implement but loosening of existing laws is the norm?
- …where there are actually calls to put GUNS IN OUR CLASSROOMS as an answer to too many school shootings?
- …the state legislature where the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting occurred refusing to even discuss a ban assault weapons much less pass that law less than two weeks after horrific event?
Here in Michigan what do I write about?
- A Republican candidate for governor who is exploiting his advocacy for autism to bring in massive campaign donations?
- Republican legislators spending precious legislative time passing an anti-immigrant bill making English our “official state language” when there are so many other issues confronting us?
- Republicans cutting taxes while our roads crumble to ruin?
This plethora of issues we face largely explains the lack of posts on the site recently. I have felt overwhelmed and somewhat paralyzed.
Then I listened to Stoneman Douglas High School student Delaney Tarr give a speech after watching the Florida state legislature refuse to debate an assault weapon ban. Listening to her gave me a sense of clarity I haven’t had in awhile. Here’s the amazing speech from a poised, eloquent, passionate, and focused young woman:
Tarr starts out with an admission: She’s fucking exhausted and overwhelmed:
I’m a senior, who, late last night after getting in from a long and arduous trip to Tallahassee was asked to write a speech, a seven- minute-long speech because that is what we had to deliver to the media, to the people of the country. And I realized in that moment how exhausted I was, how exhausted we all are, and how overwhelmed we all are… [We are] listed as these heroes, as these bastions of change. [And] it’s scary because we are teenagers. We are children.
This exhaustion and the feelings of being too small or too inexperienced for the task ahead are familiar to almost anyone involved in the resistance movement today. This is particularly true of those who are new to political activism.
Then she describes the perspective from which she and her classmates and fellow student activists are coming from:
This movement, this movement created by students, led by students, is based in emotion. It is based in passion and it is based in pain. Our biggest flaws, our tendency to be a bit too aggressive, our tendency to lash out, things that you expect from a normal teenager, these are our strengths. The only reason that we’ve gotten so far is because we are not afraid of losing money. We are not afraid of getting reelected or not getting reelected. We have nothing to lose. The only thing we have to gain at this point is our safety.
I was particularly taken by her statement that “our biggest flaws” – our passion and emotions – are also our strengths. This is a truth we all need to embrace.
She goes on:
[C]oming here today as a teenager full of passion, a bit too much passion, was very disappointing. As you’ve heard from my colleagues and my peers, we’ve been to many rooms. We’ve spoken to only a few legislators, and try as they might, the most we’ve gotten out of them is, we’ll keep you in our thoughts, you are so strong, you are so powerful.
We’ve heard enough of that. We’ve heard enough of we are so strong, we are so powerful because that is not why we are here today. We are not here to be patted on the back. We are not here to be told that we’re great, that we’re doing so much, because we know what we’re doing and we’re doing it for a reason. We’re doing it so our legislators, so that our lawmakers will make a change, so that they will take us seriously, so that they will not dismiss us any longer, so they won’t reschedule, so they won’t push us into another room as they dance around our questions. Because we came here prepared, and we are going to come to every single meeting with every single legislator prepared.
This is the essence of successful activism; an implicit understanding of WHY you are doing it backed by being prepared for the debates and battles you will face.
Then Delaney Tarr gets to the very heart of how to move past the paralysis so many of us, myself included, are fighting so hard to break free from:
We want change and know how to get this change. And the bill that was not passed yesterday, that was shot down here in this building was very disappointing. And it is a step back in our movement. We’ve been asked many a time how we feel about it, how we’re going to go from here. And all we can say is that we’re going to keep moving forward because we don’t have a choice. We don’t have the ability to stop, to think, oh, no, we’re upset about this, we failed at one thing.
Because we didn’t fail. The people around us failed us. And if they continue to fail us, then they will no longer be in office because soon we will be given the ability to vote, and we will vote them out. And the people around us will vote them out. They must do right by us, or they will lose their jobs, and we have brought that up to them time and time again because this is no longer a chance for you to just dismiss us, for you to ignore us, and keep doing whatever it is you want to do while telling us that you want us to be safe and you don’t want anything like this to happen again but not taking any action.
To shoot down a bill like that is absolutely abhorrent. To not even give it a chance to be discussed, that disgusts me. That disgusts my peers because we know what we’ve been through and we know that this needs to be changed, that there needs to be some solution here. We’ve had enough of thoughts and prayers. We’ve had enough of we’re in your consideration, we’re going to think about it, we’re going to tell you how we feel because we support you so much because we know that that is not true. If you supported us, you would have made a change long ago, and you would be making change now.
So this is to every lawmaker out there: No longer can you take money from the NRA. No longer can you fly under the radar doing whatever it is that you want to do, because we are coming after you. We are coming after every single one of you and demanding that you take action, demanding that you make a change.
This, then, is the antidote to feeling overwhelmed and defeated: Take those feelings of frustration and anger and impotence and rage and turn them into action. Identify the lawmakers who have failed us and defeat them in November. And if the people who replace them fail us, replace THEM. Rinse and repeat until we have people setting policy and making laws who represent us as thoughtful, caring, compassionate Americans.
Start today. Find a candidate who represents your views and sign up to volunteer for their campaign. Work with your local Democratic Party. Work to collect signatures and then pass a progressive ballot initiative. Raise money, raise awareness, raise a goddam fuss and make sure that your voice, multiplied by those who join you, are heard at the highest levels.
This, then, is how to move forward when it all seems like too much to process. Find something, even if it’s only one thing, and dedicate yourself to its success. While we can’t dismantle the grifting Trump administration and Trump family, we CAN fill Congress with people who can hold them accountable, unlike the current crop of spineless, enabling Republicans. And we can replace state legislators who spend their time pandering to their base rather than solving the actual problems we face at the state level with legislators who have the right priorities.
Yes, we’re exhausted and overwhelmed. But politics is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself but stay in the game. We don’t have the luxury or privilege to check out and say “I’m done with politics.” Because, while we may feel like we’re “done with politics”, I assure that politics will NEVER be done with you. And there is always someone who is more impacted and who has less political power than you do who is counting on your advocacy on their behalf.
It’s a bit embarrassing that American children are the ones leading the way. On the other hand, it’s a bit refreshing, too.