Because you don't know until you know

Someone needs to do something. To borrow from a now-popular meme:  Me. I am someone. I’ve always thought of myself to be a “good” citizen.  What does that even mean? I voted in nearly every local, state, and national election since I was 18 years old, so I’ve always felt as if I’ve done my civic duty. What else is there? As it turns out, there is more!

I don’t particularly care for labels, but those labels may help others understand my journey so I’ll start with them. To start: I am a wife, a mother, and an educator. I am also the product of a privileged white middle-class background. I was a child of divorce at a time and place where this wasn’t the norm. I was the victim of a date rape before it was widely discussed. I was a single mother in a highly conservative rural area 30 years ago. I dated interracially which caused a greater reaction 35 years ago than it should have. I suffered from undiagnosed depression for a couple of decades before seeking help. I am the parent of a child with a pre-existing condition. I have been the victim of a violent mugging. All of this happened to me, but this is not all of who I am.

And now I add the labels “Progressive” and “activist” to the list. What does that mean? Hindsight tells me that it’s logical that I would come to believe in freedom with opportunity for all, responsibility to all, and cooperation among all. It’s rarely that simple and my political self developed as follows. My father was a staunch Republican. We had so much in common that I must surely be a Republican too so I registered as a Republican when I was 18 years old and never gave it a thought. I went dutifully to the polls where I often voted for the “lesser of two evils” rather than out of conviction. But conscience is a funny thing. It grows and evolves and has a life of its own.

At some relatively recent point, I started to pay attention to the news. I spoke with friends regarding pivotal social issues. My son--who is likely alive today because of ACA--patiently explained to me why it was necessary. Many times! He also explained why raising the minimum wage was essential for him and many other Americans. Again, many times. It’s embarrassing to admit my ignorance. You don’t know until you know, do you?

Fast forward to the unprecedented reporting of shooting deaths of African American males by police officers. The formation of Black Lives Matter. The understanding that I finally came to (thanks to patient conversations with a dear friend) is that when I am speeding past a police car I only have to worry about a fine. The understanding that I’ve never had “that” conversation with my children. You don’t know until you know, do you?

Then came the primaries preceding the 2016 presidential election. This challenged my thoughts on nearly everything. I began to listen with the intent to political chatter.  I’ve had the privilege of being able to ignore it most of my adult life. I’ve come to realize that it is this sort of laissez-faire attitude that in part led us to our current political situation. This won’t be an anti-Trump rant, but I can assure you that I probably wouldn’t have changed very much in my life without his entry into national politics. Two days after he got the Republican nomination, I changed my political affiliation to Democrat.

It felt momentous, but truly it didn’t change much. I mean, what were the chances that he would become President? And then, of all things, he won. I was stunned. And even then I didn’t know. I assumed that things would continue much as they had because that’s pretty much how it had always been during my lifetime. Because you don’t know until you know. At this point, this is a sad lament.

Finally, everything changed -- if only for me. I read about this protest in DC, the Women’s March. I signed up, not knowing what it would be, what it would become for me. This was one of those rare moments in life when you can say, this changed my life forever. I was energized and excited afterward. I became even more likely to share my thoughts on political matters on social media, but that didn’t accomplish much. I didn’t want to be merely a keyboard warrior. There were a few semi-secretive resistance movements that formed locally, but I didn’t see that as an option.  

And to come around full circle, someone has to do something. Because I wanted to recapture that excitement and momentum, I looked for another protest. I wasn’t able to attend two that I wanted to in DC so I was a bit frustrated. Again, social media made me aware of two things: a protest against a local jail that was housing ICE detainees and a semi-interesting Congressional race. I researched both, and ultimately ended up at the protest and on another occasion spoke to a candidate who encouraged me to volunteer, even if it wasn’t for him. These two events put me in touch with others who had some of the same concerns and fears that plague me daily.  I attended a meeting of the Lower Shore Progressive Caucus where I found out that the person I was becoming was not so alone here on the Lower Shore. While my volunteering for that Congressional race was ultimately frustrating in many ways, it was enlightening as well. Both of these events helped me to conclude that if anything is going to change in my community, I cannot wait for others to make it happen.

This isn’t the end of my political becoming, simply a few of those happenstances which started me on my current path. Life, after all, is political. I felt and continue to feel a bit hopeless at times. There’s a lot to be angry about these days: social injustices, erosion of democratic principles that once seemed sacrosanct, healthcare, women’s rights, the environment, public land use, climate change, education, the national debt, and the list continues. My political education is continuing, and I am evolving. With Progressives, I have found many like-minded individuals who have encouraged me to act locally.  Thus I found myself going to local meetings, talking with political figures who hoped to shape local and state policies and refining my political interests further. I’m still redefining my priorities as a politically cognizant individual who wants to keep democracy alive in our political system. While I still pay attention to national politics, I realize any true influence I may have will come about through local actions.

Because you don’t know until you know.

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