These are some trying times, my friends. Allow me to go on record to officially assert that This Shit Is Not Okay.
By now, you’re likely more familiar than you’d like to be with Trump’s executive orders, memoranda, and not-so-subtle bids to burn the foundational tenets of our nation’s Constitution to the ground, so I’m not going to bore you with another rundown of the events that have taken place over the last ten days. Plenty of other, more-qualified journalists and writers are covering that just fine already, like here and here and here and you get it.
Since I recently came out to y’all as a bonafide activist, I wanted to take some time to explain why being brave is so important to the world right now, as well as why being a proud, vocal, and unafraid activist is so important to me personally.
This Bitch’s History
If you know me at all, you probably know a few things about my background. I grew up in Trump’s America, a predominantly white, rural community in Middle of Nowhere, Indiana, USA. Whether we like to admit it or not, most of us were poor, less educated than our urban peers, and had limited access to quality education, healthcare, social, and infrastructure resources.
Growing up in my hometown, there were a few things that were important: God, family, high school sports, voting Republican, and, if you were a girl like me, being sweet, pretty, and willing to keep your mouth shut.
As luck would have it, I sucked at pretty much all of those things. I was a closeted atheist by middle school. My high school history teacher accused me of being a “liberal” who “would probably even vote for Hillary Clinton.” I played in the marching band and sported a face full of acne. More than one teacher in my high school career told me I had a problem with authority.
Looking back on it, there were plenty of other kids in my hometown like me; I wasn’t a particularly special snowflake. I wasn’t the only kid who was terrible at sports, liked to read, believed that gay people should be allowed to get married, or generally felt like a square peg in a very conservative, very round hole. But the power lay with people who constantly told us that we were wrong, shameful, and needed to stay quiet, lest we embarrass someone.
Some of the people I grew up with stayed in my hometown and now lead happy lives. But other square pegs, like myself, quietly moved away to find some other likeminded citizens in various corners of the world. Some started doing drugs. Some got married and divorced a few times. Some committed suicide.
There were so many of us, but we each felt uniquely alone.
Eventually, I grew up and moved away. I went to college and later moved to California. After a little time passed, I realized how angry I was about many of my experiences growing up, and I eventually started–slowly and tremulously, at first–speaking up about them.
Then, one day, I wrote The Post. It told my story about the inequalities and injustices many of the people in my hometown experienced growing up in a rural public school system. I was apprehensive about the backlash I might face, but I felt like my story was an important one to tell. I published it.
And hooooooooboy, did the backlash ever come. Suddenly, I received dozens of hate mail messages from strangers, acquaintances, teachers, and even some self-proclaimed-former best friends. I read every excruciating word of it. My parents faced cold shoulders and harsh words from neighbors and family friends. Meanwhile, I cried for four days.
For each message of hate I received, though, I received ten more messages from people around the world who told me that my story inspired them and helped them see that they were not alone. Many of them asked me to keep their identities secret because they were afraid of being ridiculed, harassed, or worse. Each of these messages was uniquely sincere, beautiful, and heartbreaking, but they all had something in common: Each person said that they, too, had felt alone and wished that someone had been there to stand up for them when they needed help.
I didn’t call myself an activist then. In my mind, I was just an out-of-place, Midwestern refugee in the exotic lands of the west coast who had a story to tell. But I quickly realized that I had unwittingly taken on an intimidating and humbling responsibility: People who found my post relied on me and my stories for guidance, hope, and courage.
The Scarlet Letter
It took me a long time to be comfortable labeling myself as a Capital A Activist. Every time I wrote a new article or posted an opinion piece about my political views, the h8ers came flocking to express their disappointment and outrage in the “liberal coastal elite” I had become. Not only that, but I assumed you had to be on the seemingly unattainable social justice planes of Martin Luther King or Gloria Steinem or bell hooks to be labeled an activist.
A Really Dumb Story that Kind of Illustrates My Point
So this is a really stupid comparison, but I’m going to make it anyway. I’ve been running half marathons for about three years now. I’m training for my first full marathon this year. In the past, when I told new friends or acquaintances that I was training for events, they’d ask, “Oh, so you’re a runner?”
“Um, well, not exactly,” I’d usually say. “I’m more like…a person who runs. Not a runner, really.” After all, I could maybe run a 10-minute mile on a good day, and I was never going to get close to any winner’s podium.
By the end of 2016, though, I finished a half a dozen races, trained regularly, and ran hundreds of miles over the course of the year. I eventually realized that I was, in fact, a runner, no matter how slow or how great my inferiority complex.
Okay, Back to Activism
So maybe I’ll never lead a civil rights movement or usher in a new wave of feminism. Maybe I’m still really nervous every time I talk to a Congressional staffer on the phone. Maybe I don’t yell the loudest at protests, and maybe I haven’t run for public office (yet).
But I show up. And I write letters. And I make calls anyway, even though I hate talking on the phone. I march, I yell, I donate money, I take care of whomever I can, and I vote.
And I write.
When I was growing up, I wish someone had stood up to my history teacher and told him that my political views were valid. I wish someone had thrown up two middle fingers when the people who were supposed to be our role models told my peers and me that we didn’t deserve to go to college. I wish someone would have stood up for us when we weren’t able to stand up for ourselves. I wish I had witnessed more people bravely speaking out for what was right, the status quo be damned.
I heard a quote recently that hit me hard:
Right now, refugees, Muslims, immigrants, women, LGBTQAI+ people, minorities, indigenous communities, and the environment all face horrifying executive orders that promise to limit our rights, voice, health, and future. In Trump’s America, we need people to stand up against these bewildering injustices, and we need people to stand up for the rights and privileges we hold dear as Americans and citizens of the world. We need activists.
When I wrote that post years ago, the people who reached out to me needed my voice to stand up for them. They needed me to fight for them and tell their stories.
And when I was younger, I needed someone to be brave. I needed someone who wasn’t afraid to stand up for me. I needed an activist, too.
So that is what I will be.