Writing left handed

Activism 101: When your post-DNC MacBook Pro meltdown isn’t really about accidentally supporting Apple

This past weekend, 5 Reasons your Feel the Bern Friend won’t Shut Up: What Happened to Sanders Delegates at the DNC went semi-viral. 11,000 views and counting, thanks to more retweets than I’ve ever experienced in my life (mainly because I suck at Twitter but that’s another story for another day…).

It’s been a while since I’ve had anything go viral, which, go figure: I’ve spent the past year either not blogging or debating the merits of Chiavari chairs and wearing multiple wedding gowns.

But now that I’m back (and writing about something important), I’ve started getting emails with subject lines like “Well young lady…” and tweets that read simply “white and privileged.”

Am I white and privileged? Absolutely. Do I acknowledge this and work to educate myself and others about how this privilege works (and endows those of us who benefit from it with moral imperative to fight against it)? Absolutely. To the eternal chagrin, I might add, of my more ignorant anthropology students, but college (and ethnography in particular) isn’t supposed to make you feel comfortable.

Like I said though: it’s been a while. And between the trolls and my new MacBook Pro, I had a meltdown this morning.

It wasn’t really about the trolls of course, or my guilt over having allowed my husband to buy me a $1,500 computer from a company that funnels billions through off shore accounts to avoid paying taxes, that uses children to mine the materials required for its phones, that had to install suicide-prevention nets outside of its factory windows and that perpetuates, perhaps more than any other company, the belief that your life will somehow be incomplete without its latest product so you’d better go out and wait in line for six hours to buy it…

It was not knowing how to pull back.

How do you stay abreast of what’s going on in the world without being depressed all the time? 

How do you remain engaged once you’ve been “woke” without losing your mind?

How do you go back to not knowing? 

How do you buy a freaking laptop without losing your mind over the ethics (or lack thereof) of doing so?

It’s my white privilege speaking now— I’ve had the ability to live in blissful ignorance for the better part of 31 years–  but how do you stay angry, channel that anger for good, and keep it from consuming you? 

I know that every activist in this history of the world has asked themselves these questions, and that I’ve only just dipped my toe in the waters at this point, but as my mom keeps telling me, there’s a reason why more people don’t bother to get involved in their communities, whatever those communities may be. 

Why? Because it’s hard.

Then again…

I was a freshman in high school the year that the phrase “hanging chads” entered the American consciousness. No on had ever even heard of a chad before the 2000 presidential race, which sent George W. Bush to the White House with a slim victory of 537 votes (out of almost 6 million cast).

I was taking a drama class with a group homeschoolers at the time, most of whom were Evangelical Christians.

I, for the record, was not nor have I ever been an Evangelical Christian, but the church (being the church) had one thing over the crunchy, granola eating type of homeschoolers: they were organized. And they offered some great extra curricular programs that gave me the chance to beef up my transcript while mingling with kids my own age.

Our instructor was a middle aged woman. Republican to the core, she used to begin each class with a prayer: Lord, let the recount in Florida lead your servant, George W. Bush to victory!

The recount went on for several weeks and my classmates prayed the same prayer every each time our class met. I, on the other hand, crossed my fingers behind my back when it came time to say “Amen.”

One week, our instructor did a dramatic reading of First Corinthians but she turned the traditionally sweet-but-sappy wedding staple on its head. “I’m envisioning myself as a politician,” she told us. “Someone like Hillary Clinton.”

Her delivery of “Love is patient, love is kind” was anything but. It was frightening, actually, just as she’d intended it to be. Hillary Clinton, or at least her version of the former First Lady, was hard, power hungry, and not to be trusted.

The class, just like that year’s election and the one that followed in 2004, left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. My college roommates and I decorated our dorm with Kerry/Edwards signs but as I sat there in the school’s subterranean coffee shop, watching the returns with the other Campus Democrats, I felt like my vote hadn’t even mattered.

And for a first time but enthusiastic voter, this was a sh*tty way to feel.

Which is why it broke my heart to hear the freshman-in-high-school aged daughter of our down the block neighbor tell me she wouldn’t vote in this election even if she could.

Our neighborhood isn’t exactly… progressive. I’m not saying we’ve got pick up trucks plastered with Trump signs (that’s the next street over) but I will say this: I didn’t even bother with door to door canvassing on our block during the primaries because my husband and I are still relatively new to the area and I knew it would be a waste of time.

But having a dog changes all of that. And having a cute dog means everyone wants to talk to you, teenagers included, even if you’re still sporting a twin set of Bernie “lawn” signs on the raised flower beds at the foot of your steps.

“I still can’t believe he lost,” one of them sighed, pointing to my signs. 

“I know!” said the other. “It’s, like, so sad.”


Knock me over with a feather.

From their usual stoop-sitting antics, I wouldn’t have guessed they even knew that a presidential election was taking place, let alone who Bernie Sanders was or that they liked him.

But they did.

“I’m not old enough to vote,” the younger one continued, “but I wouldn’t even if I could. I mean what are your choices? Trump is a psycho and Hillary just lies.”

The educator in me let them continue with their own quasi-Socratic reasoning for a few minutes, jumping in only to correct them when the older one (who had just finished an AP class in government and politics or whatever it’s called these days) said that Obama had just appointed a “liberal” to the Supreme Court.

“Actually he hasn’t” I corrected her. “He’s tried to appoint a fairly moderate choice but Congress is controlled by Republicans right now and they won’t even grant his nominee a hearing.”

I was about to take up my usual line of argument (“Have you girls seen Iron Jawed Angels yet because if not, you really need to! You’ll think twice about not exercising your right to vote once you see what the suffragettes went through…”) but I realized that they’d become so jaded at such a young age that there was no point in trying to appeal to their teenaged sense of feminism. 

They were too disgusted and too disillusioned to care.

And this is all of our faults. This is what we have given them: a choice between the lesser of two evils. No one to inspire them, no one to give them a reason to hope or to look forward to the day when they’re old enough to vote.

I told them that it was fine if they didn’t want to vote for a president (honestly I’m not looking forward to it either) but that the down ticket races would be just as important this time around because there are hundred of congressional seats up for grabs.

This seemed to appease them to a degree, but it certainly didn’t make them excited about the thought of casting their votes for the first time when they get their turn in a few years.

And I knew exactly how they felt because I felt the same way the first time I was old enough to vote, and it took me nearly a decade and a half to get excited again.

We can’t afford to lose the next generation to a dozen years of apathy.

Even if the alternative feels even harder sometimes.

6 Responses to “Activism 101: When your post-DNC MacBook Pro meltdown isn’t really about accidentally supporting Apple”

  1. landlord no longer

    Yup! And….as I always say,”pick your battles,” otherwise you are no good to the cause you ARE most passionate about” There is no way any one of us can fix it all, but ALL of us can make our own difference, no matter how small, and if you are lucky enough to see the results, count your blessings 😉 Good for you with the teen dialog,it is a start, a seed was sown.

  2. Grace @ Cultural Life

    Sadly, many young people are disillusioned in the UK too. It’s hugely frustrating that only around 36% of 18-24 year olds got out and voted in the EU referendum. 😞 If more young people had voted, maybe we’d still be in the EU. (Well, technically we *are* still in; negotiations to leave haven’t started yet).

    • Kat Richter

      Yes, the sad truth 😦 I was just watching a story about the Brexit vote on PBS and it looks like nothing will be happening until next year sometime?

      • Grace @ Cultural Life

        Possibly next year, yes, and certainly not this year. Negotiations won’t begin until the Prime Minister formally announces article 50, which triggers the process to leave. The problem is, given that no country has ever left the EU, the process is very unclear. Once article 50 is announced, the UK has two years to agree on what withdrawing from the EU will mean. But that’s highly unrealistic, given that it took 17 years for Switzerland to negotiate one insurance deal with the EU.

        From an article in the Guardian: “Already Eurosceptic zealots are pressing May to trigger article 50, which starts the formal two-year exit process. One expert in Zurich laughed when I suggested a country with an economy as complex as Britain could sort out a new trade deal with Europe in this time. It took the Swiss 17 years to negotiate one insurance agreement; there has still been no deal on joining the open market for financial services” — https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/15/theresa-may-swiss-brexit-switzerland-eu-migration

        Unraveling forty years of shared policy, laws, regulations and economics is a mammoth undertaking. 😞


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