Sidelines Are No Longer An Option
I still remember my first time at the polls. I had just celebrated my eighteenth birthday, and my parents and I stood together in a line inside a school gymnasium. Early November already felt like winter in the mountains of Colorado.
When it was my turn to approach the voting booth, I was nervous. Outside of the presidential nominees, I didn’t know who any of the candidates were. I checked any and all of the boxes with the small letter that indicated a person was in my party—the party my parents identified with. It was now my party, too.
“In my experience, [political discussions] only ever brought division and debate. It was better to keep quiet, to foster peace.”
Fast forward four years to my second time voting in a presidential election. It was warmer that winter, and the sun poured through the oak trees on my college campus. I was walking to class when a boy stopped me. He was campaigning and wanted to ask me a few questions. “I already know who I’m voting for,” I said without looking up. And I did. I was voting for the candidate my parents were voting for, again. The one in my family’s chosen party.
I was that college girl who didn’t do politics. The presidential election was the only time I ever thought about politics and, even then, I just showed up to check the boxes. When classmates tried to have conversations about the election or a polling person showed up at my dorm, I told them I didn’t believe in political discussions. In my experience, those kinds of talks only ever brought division and debate. It was better to keep quiet, to foster peace. At least that’s what I believed. As for the people who didn’t know who they were voting for? I told them it was better not to vote at all. That was their right.
Frankly, I’m pretty embarrassed writing about all of this. I don’t align or agree with my former ideologies. I’ve since learned my apathy about politics was a sign of privilege. I could only choose not to care because the outcome of elections and votes never affected me. My ethnicity and education and socioeconomic status have always allowed me certain rights and opportunities—rights that would not be challenged no matter who was in office.
“I’ve since learned my apathy about politics was a sign of privilege.”
I know there are others who have removed themselves from politics from one reason or another. Maybe you are like me and grew up with privilege. Politics has always been an after-thought—not because you don’t care about people, but because you’ve never been directly affected by a policy or seen negative repercussions firsthand. Or maybe you are fiercely committed to your beliefs, but the past few years have been overwhelming.
I’m certain all of us have a family member or two spewing hateful rhetoric at holiday get-togethers or over Facebook. These dead-end conversations can make anyone want to throw their hands up and just walk away from it all. Maybe you just don’t know where to begin. It can be scary to ask questions, especially when everyone seems to have formulated opinions. This can also be overwhelming.
“With privilege comes responsibility—responsibility to inform ourselves, to recognize inequality, and to speak against it.”
So, I’m writing to say: I hear you. I’ve been in all the seats, and I get it. But neutral politics can no longer be an option for any of us. Not only are there politicians working against equality and inclusion in our country, but there are policies in play that are harming the environment and eradicating natural resources. It’s essential we learn, develop opinions, and vote—especially if we have privilege. Not being impacted by the results of elections ups the stakes, in my opinion. With privilege comes responsibility—responsibility to inform ourselves, to recognize inequality, and to speak against it.
Sidelines are no longer an option. They shouldn’t have been in the first place. As someone who used to believe I was keeping the peace by remaining silent, I now realize I was only perpetuating and hiding behind my privilege.
“As someone who used to believe I was keeping the peace by remaining silent, I now realize I was only perpetuating and hiding behind my privilege.”
On a practical level, there are many ways to stay informed and involved. Here are a few ways you can learn and advocate outside of voting on election days:
First and foremost, stay informed about current affairs in the country. Start by learning about what’s happening in the White House and with federal policies. Politico is one of my favorite media sources for nonpartisan political news. Here on The Good Trade, we have curated a list of the most trusted sources for environmental news and a roundup of how to stay informed for the 2020 elections. If you prefer to get news in your inbox, subscribe to our favorite daily newsletters.
Learn About Your Local Government
It’s also essential to say informed on a state and city level because policies can vary depending on where you’re at in the country. Find out the names of your elected officials here, and make it a goal to attend at least one town hall meeting in the coming months. Check out this activism guide from Fair US for tips on attending your first meeting. These events are also a great place to meet your local officials and network with and learn from political activists in your area.
Remember these two things: politics are always happening, even outside of the big elections. And your local officials want to hear from you—they work for the people, and the good ones listen. Here’s an excellent guide for communicating with your local representatives.
Support and Fundraise for Your Party’s Candidates
“I find my energy is much better spent on the ground and investing in practical support.”
With the presidential election just around the corner, we’re beginning to meet and hear from the candidates competing for the Democratic nominee, as well as the other seats on the ballot. You can help the candidate you support by joining a campaigning party, as well as through fundraising. This is especially important for candidates refusing to take money from billionaires and corporate PACs (Political Action Committees).
You can also show your support on social media—though do so with caution. I find my energy is much better spent on the ground and investing in practical support. Don’t, for example, only participate in sharing negative articles and trolling others. You can use your social platform for good by posting photos of rallies, sharing positive messages from candidates, and raising awareness about harmful policies. Meaningful conversation is key, and Twitter is a great platform for this, especially because your tweets are not limited to your friends list. Consider hopping on for the 2020 election.