Hope, Reasons For
After a week of reflection, I woke up today optimistic about the future.
I was born and raised in the Rust Belt, in a county that went red in a state that went red, in a little town whose fortune depended first on the mines and now on fracking the Marcellus Shale. I know that my friends and neighbors — families that would pick us up from school and babysit my brother and me and clear our driveway after a blizzard — probably didn’t vote the way I did. But I have no doubt that they voted with the best intention for America. And I know it’s been too easy for me to hope that things at home would get better without being involved or even paying attention.
Coming together to fix our problems won’t be easy. But here’s what makes me hopeful.
1) More people will commit to taking action. If HRC had won, most of the folks I know would have celebrated, maybe congratulated ourselves a bit, and gone back to our daily lives without changing anything. Now my news feed is full of people — especially women — vowing for change. I’ve talked with people who are determined to run for office, volunteer with organizations that matter to them, go to community meetings no matter how long their day has been. A whole lot of us see now that division in our country endangers the families we’ve built around us. And I know of no force — not gravity, not fear — that is stronger than people’s desire to protect their family. Taking action is hard. It takes fighting through fear, trying and failing at new things, carving out time away from work and kids. But this moment could be the one we look back on as the awakening of a generation.
2) We have the chance to close a class divide. Look at history. Lots of class divides end with guillotines. This one won’t. We’ve known for decades that the American middle class is shrinking. Obama talked about a divided America 12 years ago and ran on a message of a change 8 years ago. Occupy Wall Street was 5 years ago. But most of us have been hoping that the system would fix itself while we go about our lives. Now that option is gone. The system hasn’t been working for half the country — and we all need to listen to each other to understand why. Then we can go to work.
3) A generation of little girls will grow up knowing they can be president. A couple months ago, Jane Goodall came to the office I work in. Hundreds of people came to see her. 80% of them were women — and half of those women looked under 25. During question time, one young woman said, “For my 4th grade science project I had to pick a scientist I wanted to be like. My options were you or Marie Curie.” One lone anthropologist inspired generations of women scientists who were born well after Goodall’s famous chimpanzee study ended. Can you imagine what it’ll be like to have a generation of little girls grow up overhearing years of discussion that a woman was expected to win the presidency? Or seeing that same woman be kind and graceful as she talked to them from a TV screen about how setbacks happen but fighting for what’s right is always worth it? The future is amazing.
4) We will build tribes that are more representative. Look at Prop 8. The same day that President Obama was swept into office 8 years ago, California, the most liberal state in the union, voted to ban gay marriage. And guess what? The movement against the ban had been polling 3–4 points ahead before the election. The surprise result was a wakeup call. By the time Prop 8 was overturned 5 years later, a majority of Californians and Americans supported gay marriage. 2 years after that, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal across the country, which the new president-elect said he considers settled law. How did we move so far so fast? According to research, because young people made their voices heard, and because more people realized they knew a gay person. If we can listen to each other more, our tribes could look more like America as a whole. Then there’s no choice but for our laws to follow.
How will we do all this? I don’t know. But I’m hopeful we can figure it out together.
My ask: however you’re feeling now — vowing to listen to people with different experience, vowing to be active in your community, vowing to put yourself out there in the next election — carve off a little corner of that feeling, put it into a box, and keep it safe so you can find it when you need it every so often.
It’s hard work to come together. We’ve got years ahead of us of sitting on folding chairs in church basements, showing up after work at town halls, making phone calls to our reps in Congress.
But this is what the sawtooth edge of progress looks like — we make strides together and then lurch into a trough, we split up and come back together over and over, we give in to fear and then realize one more time we’re all the same.
The best time to be alive in America? It’s always, always tomorrow. We just have to get there together.
Fired up! Ready to go.