Finding my Voice

White House

On most days, this is going to be a site where you can learn about the people, places, and experiences we have had on this RTW trip of ours. But not today. We cannot ignore what is going on in our home country and conduct business as usual when the people we love and care about are scared and hurting.

We love the USA. We are usually incredibly proud of our fellow Americans and we are proud of how we as a country continue to grow and change. But sitting in a hotel banquet hall on November 8th in Carnarvon, Australia, that all started to change. The hope and excitement that we had for electing our first female president dissolved before our eyes as state after state turned red.

Then hate broke out. And my heart started to break.

This man who stands against everything I was raised to believe in, everything I taught my students, and everything that I believe America stands for, was elected. A man who openly mocked a disabled reporter. Who bragged about grabbing a woman by the pussy. Who called Mexican’s rapists. Who called for a Muslim registry. He’s our leader.

It took us nearly a week to break out of the fog. Ben and I talked daily about how we felt like we were grieving. It was more than just losing the election, it was that the country we love so much chose fear and hate over love and hope.

This quote is as true today as it was when FDR said it. Picture taken at the FDR Memorial in Washington D.C.

I couldn’t get my students out of my head. And hours after Trump had officially been announced the winner, I posted something on my Facebook page, because writing typically makes me feel better.

“I am utterly gutted by the election results. I keep coming back to a morning earlier this year in my classroom.

Every day my second grade class would spend the first 30 minutes doing a morning meeting. My “teacher’s assistant” for the week would lead the meeting and check in with each student to see how they were feeling.

On this particular day, one of my students was in tears. When he shared why he was so upset he said: “I am scared that Donald Trump will become president and he will send my family away.”

This was still during the primaries but he was genuinely scared. I used it as a teachable moment.

I always prefaced statements about hot topics with a disclaimer, saying there are at least two different sides to the story, but my message in this case was something to the effect of: unfortunately there are lots of people who believe that not everyone who is here in America should stay here, or be welcomed here.

At this point, several students put their arms around the person sitting next to them. My class was, after all, made up of dozens of ethnicities, and had nearly ten different languages spoken at home. One little girl, who was hugging her best friend, said, “But why don’t they want my best friend to live here?”

I told them it was a long story, and that many people believed many different things on the topic, but the one thing that we could do to make it better was to be kind and caring to everyone. We then spent a bit more time talking about our feelings and ultimately going around and telling each person one thing we really liked about them.

It made everybody feel better and my little boy that was so scared initially came up and gave me the biggest hug later.

Then the votes came in… And I can’t get that little guy, or the rest of my students, out of my head.

My class last year was full of kids from countries around the world, who each contributed an incredible amount of knowledge, kindness, and spirit to those around them. My class was also full of students with disabilities, who also contributed an incredible amount of knowledge, kindness, and spirit to those around them.

The fact that we just elected someone who has openly made revolting comments about minorities and those with disabilities makes me physically ill. Those are my kids that he is talking about. Those kids who are sweet, kind, trusting, and friendly. Those kids who have more to offer than a knee-jerk reaction in the hopes to get more media attention. Those kids who deserve more than what they got on November 8th.

I understand that the American people have spoken. But I am so incredibly disappointed by those people. I clearly didn’t realize that our society was so scared of progress. I didn’t realize that teaching my students to be kind, caring, honest, trustworthy, and hardworking was going to set them up for failure.

My heart is broken. Not for me because I am a white, upper-middle class, educated person, and I think out of everyone, I will be affected among the least. But my heart is aching for my students, my kiddos, who are going to have to endure at least four years of being governed by a person, and a party, that believes they are less than, solely by the labels they dole out.”

But the sense of hopelessness didn’t really leave. We continued to experience wonderful things around the country of Australia, but in the back of our minds, we couldn’t shake this dread about the upcoming inauguration.

The holidays rolled around and we asked that our presents be donations to causes we believe in because we assumed that funding would be more important now than ever.

And then January 20th came. That feeling that had washed over us in that banquet room in Carnarvon as we watched the election results roll in, was back – although it hadn’t really ever left.

He was officially president.

And then, it got worse.

He signed executive order after executive order, undoing things that I support like the ACA, and starting things I abhor like the boarder wall and the Muslim ban.

And we are only one week in.

There have been brief embers of light in this incredibly dark time, including the Women’s March and the protests that broke out this weekend at airports and in cities around the country to protect our Muslim brothers and sisters, but it still feels dark and heavy.

We’ve been trying to keep in touch with family and friends back home and we have repeatedly been told how lucky we are to be out of the US right now, but we aren’t so sure. We would give anything to hug my friends and family members who are Muslim, gay, disabled, immigrants, women or anyone else who is feeling scared or defeated. I wish we could go to a protest and be surrounded by people who think like we do and have a bit of reassurance that we’re not alone in our beliefs. But we can’t do that on the other side of the world.

Instead, we continue to donate to causes we believe in and we don’t shy away from people we meet on our trip who are curious or furious about what our country is doing. It’s hard to be an ambassador for a country that feels so alien to you, but Ben and I have promised to make sure that each person we meet knows that many Americans are kind and rational. That Trump doesn’t represent the America we know and love.

A piece of The Berlin Wall with some fitting graffiti, found at the Newseum in Washington D.C.

A piece of The Berlin Wall with some fitting graffiti, found at the Newseum in Washington D.C.

Growing up in small towns with my dad in a very public role, standing up for your beliefs wasn’t something we did publicly very often. While I have strong beliefs about many of these topics, I typically keep them to myself as I was taught not to cause ripples. Well, the waves are coming now, because I can’t continue to stay silent about this.

If there is anything I can thank our new president for, it is for giving me courage to finally find my voice.

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  • Reply
    Tom Law
    January 30, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Well said, but let me also add some positive perspective. In the fall of 2015, the Westminster Town Hall Forum across the street from us brought in a speaker from Yale (I believe). Her name is Jennifer Lawless and she wrote a book called Running From Office. The gist of the talk was the disengagement of those under 35 from most forms of civic life. The book is data driven with anecdotes from this population group. The reason I am hopeful isI believe this election cycle has changed the data for this book forever…and for the better.

    • Reply
      February 1, 2017 at 6:27 am

      Thanks for this Tom, I will look into it. I just hope that this surge in engagement won’t be too late. A lot of the things Trump is doing, or not doing, are super scary.

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