Activist and millennial, could I have put two more “cringe worthy” words together in a title? Probably not. But let’s not have any misconceptions about what this post is about; I’m writing about my journey and feelings around being an “activist millennial” in the dawn of the presidency of Donald Trump.
For those of you who read my posts, you’ve probably figured out by now I am a liberal, almost a “bleeding heart” liberal. I’ve always been this way. I remember yelling at kids in my middle school for using the word gay when they meant stupid, and being livid I couldn’t make them understand that that’s just not cool. “Say what you mean, mean what you say”.
This was only made “worse” by going to a very liberal college, the University of Denver. Here, I was able to find so many liberals. Oh, did I mention my first year was when Obama got elected for the second time? DU had the second presidential debate in 2012. I didn’t get to attend the debate; but between the Lumineers concert, knowing Obama was within 0.1 miles from me and voting in my first election – it was easily one of the best days of my life.
The first steps towards understanding ‘activism’
Like many people, I formed my values, morals and opinions about our world during college. I started interning here at BillTrack50 and educating myself about policy and the reasons behind it. I started learning about privilege. White privilege. White woman privilege. And white woman from the mountains privilege. I began trying to understand activism and what “being an ally” actually meant. I went through the difficult process of learning being passionate, well informed and an optimist was not enough. I had to learn how to use my knowledge and be a normal, nice person. Yelling at people who didn’t share my beliefs was never going to help me convert them. Refusing to speak to people with differing opinions was only contributing to the polarization we see today.
My first major step forward was actually trying to listen to people – I had to engage with people. At first, I would “engage” with people – defined as listening to someone until it’s your turn to take them down. I was introduced to some pretty stark oppositions to my beliefs on many different levels; not just “conservative” view points, but differing approaches to religious, race and class issues. During this time, I realized I was ignorant. Through being called out, it made me step back and really try to understand where I was and to think about where I wanted to be, who I wanted to be and what I wanted to fight for.
Aka, I was maturing.
Maturing is hard, we all know that. Maturing with your political activism in a situation as polarized as now feels almost impossible. I am trying to do what a good activist does: participate in the resistance, educate and engage when I can, listen to my podcasts, pay attention to the ‘other side’ and attempt to figure out a way for America to move forward.
An example of how this usually shakes out for me…
I went to a lunch where Myron Ebell (Trump’s transition leader for the EPA) gave a talk about his hopes of abolishing the EPA and resending their regulatory policies. Many different reasons were brought up: pushing back on the “environmental regulatory rampage”, too many resources allocated to the EPA, wanting out of Paris Climate Treaty, the Clean Power Plant Plan being too costly, no “statutory premise” for allocating resources to climate change, access issues for land and energy and more. Sometimes, although I disagreed or recognized I have no clue about the ins and outs of the EPA, I could kinda understand where they were coming from. The other times, I was a flurry of emotions ranging from furious to sad. Myron’s main point to people who were concerned about the future of the Earth was most states have their own environmental protection programs. As far as I could tell, all states have at least one department dedicated to the environment – some have many. So I “understood” that, but when I thought about it, it made absolutely zero sense. How could we ensure states were staying accountable to environmental interests, not financial interests? After all, it’s the big businesses that sponsor substantial portions of campaigns for our congressmen and senators.
So, even being able to understand where people came from I was confronted with the fact that this is way too polarizing a situation for simply “understanding” where the “other” side came from to lead to any sort of resolution. It feels like everyone is at one extreme or the other for every issue, or at least compelled to choose “a side”. The environment? Yup. Health care? Yup. Abortion? Yup. Minimum wage? Yup. Anything else you can think of? Yup. Is this due to wanting swing voters? Maybe. It might just be the cruel convergence of increasingly extreme legislative and political trends finally colliding — and blowing up in our faces.
So where do we go from here? How can we come together again? How can we bring ourselves to an area where people aren’t “doubling down” on extreme views and get ourselves back to more moderate, modern policies and legislation? How to do we fight everyone’s egos? Respect people’s deeply held beliefs? How are we supposed to feel? I don’t have an answer for any of this. I keep learning about situations going on all over the US that I am ignorant to and don’t understand. Then I’m informed by conversations, podcasts or articles and add that to my huge long list of things I think I should know more about. An example of this was learning about the lack intersectionality in feminism during the Women’s March. When I first started seeing posts by women of color calling out white women feminism, I was hurt and confused because I did not see how race played a role in a gender issue..aka white, privileged female. The more I read about it, the more I realized how hurt so many women across the US were because of the lack of intersectionality and how truly important it is to support all aspects of all women, everywhere. This was only one of so many lessons I need to learn.
Thinking about all of this, the future of our country, my future, my possible future kids’ future, everyone’s future, makes me sad. Almost every day I find some policy or action that is completely disheartening and makes me want to cry or scream. Maybe it’s the mountain ‘hippy’ in me, but why can’t we all just agree to treat people like people? No matter your sex, race, gender preference, sexual orientation, social class or whatever else, you are above all human and therefore should be treated as such. I feel like we’ve lost that, and the mutual respect which comes along with it.
So what can I do to be a good activist millennial? Keep trying to educate and learn, spread kindness and respect and hope it catches on. Keep trying to convince people to fight with me to change the things that I cannot accept. Our future depends on it.