I have to go.
Today am flying from Chicago to Washington DC to participate in the Women’s March on Washington. Why? Why does it matter that a bunch of people march together outside? What does it really change? One of my friends asked me this question recently, and it got me thinking that it was important that I answer this, not just for her, but for my nieces and my nephews. This letter is for them.
Dear Stephan, Howard, Gavin, Lily and Riley,
I have to go. I feel like this is one of those moments where history is being made, and what I do or do not do will determine the kind of world you will grow up in. One day in history class you and your children will read about this week. There are at least two ways this story could go:
The first one documents an unprecedented Presidential election, where the divides in our Country and the world seemed very wide. For the first time, a woman was a viable candidate for the Presidency. She did not win. Donald Trump won. He won in part because many in our Country felt ignored and angry. These people felt Trump heard them, and they voted. At the same time, many more who felt powerless and hopeless stayed home and stayed silent. And on President Trump’s inauguration day, democracy seemed fragile and the future uncertain. Many felt fearful, powerless, hopeless. People watched and waited.
The second one talks about this same election, and the painful divisiveness in the U.S. and the world. Same outcome on election day. Except people did not just watch and wait. They did not stay home and stay silent. They participated. Grounded in the principles our country was founded, people stepped up peacefully and expressed their views, remembered that power in America emanates from the people, held our elected officials accountable, and put forward a vision of equality, liberty and hope. Women in particular, perhaps awakened by opportunity lost to indifference, led the way.
I want to leave the second version of the story for you.
Your grandparents left it for me. When I was your age, Nana and Papa showed me how to participate in civic life, how to be a constructive part of building the future. Nana was more conservative, papa more liberal. Sometimes we had competing yard signs, and I remember more than a few heated debates in the kitchen. But always they voted. Often they volunteered at the polls, or on campaigns. I grew up knowing that I could have my own views, and that it was not only my right but my responsibility to stay informed and participate in the process.
The easiest way to participate is to just to show up. Show up to vote, show up by expressing your views, show up by standing in solidarity. Votes add up to win or lose elections. Calls and letters add up to sway votes on legislation and change perspectives. (I learned this first hand that elected officials count those calls and letters, that was my job as an intern on Capitol Hill. Never underestimate the value of the calling your elected officials) Movements start with one person willing to show up and stand up.
You will hear lots of your friends and many adults say they do not “talk politics” or participate because it creates acrimony. Don’t fall for it. You do not need to make a choice between looking away and throwing stones. There IS a middle path. Speak up with kindness. Listen with compassion. Debate with respect. Demonstrate peacefully. And vote. You can always vote!
In 1965, in a speech at Dinkier Plaza Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “History will have to record the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the vitriolic words and other violent actions of the bad people but the appalling silence and indifference of the good people. Our generation will have to repent not only the words and acts of the children of darkness but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light.”
You are a child of light. Do not let fear and apathy dim your fire.
When you feel powerless, unheard, and undervalued, overcoming this is achieved not by resignation but by action. If you want to feel empowered, do something. If you want to feel heard, speak up. If you want to feel valued, help someone else.
All of this matters. It matters because YOU matter.
I am going to Washington to march because I want to do my part to ensure that the world you live in allows you to thrive. I want your world to be full of hope and not anger. I want you to inherit a world where love wins. Someday, you may disagree with my views, just as I disagree with the views of our new President. And I promise you, I’ll listen, and I’ll go with you to the polls to cast your vote.