I was quiet this election season and it was something I wrestled with. There’s the part of me who can’t let go of my journalist hat, and with good reason. In October, my dormant journalism career got revived when I got an opportunity to freelance for The Washington Post.
Yea, don’t even get me started. The thing I wanted most—to be a journalist for a national publication—came exactly a year after I officially hung up my press pass.
And because of this I worked hard to keep my political opinions to myself. So much of political involvement has become messy and divisive. We are encouraged not to rock the boat at dinner parties by engaging in political debates. More often than not social posts on political issues will result in the loss of Facebook friends or potential business clients. It is often more comfortable to stay in our own bubbles and participate in echo chambers. The general consensus is that you shouldn’t engage with family members over politics if your beliefs do not align.
But this quiet suppression is destructive to the very core of democracy and a key reason I believe the outcome of this year’s election brought so many of us to our knees. A few years ago when I visited pubs in England, I marveled at the boisterous political debates that were taken as seriously as soccer matches—both sides eventually settling their score with a friendly handshake or round of beers.
I have never been more emotional about an election outcome as I was at 3 a.m. on Nov. 9. The sheer volume of my sobbing was on par with the news of a loved one’s death. And while I was alone in this moment, I would learn in the next week that my response was similar to millions of others. Suddenly I did not recognize my own country. Suddenly the values I cherished were at stake. The comfort and malaise of the last eight years had made me quiet, complacent and disconnected with so many of my fellow Americans.
By not speaking up for the values that were important to me, I had failed. By not speaking out about injustices I was witnessing, I had allowed for inexcusable behavior to become normalized.
A few days after the election, I found solace in the very heart our democracy’s core, Washington DC. I had planned the trip for months but the journey took on a new meaning given the pivotal point in our nation’s history. And in a place where 94 percent of voters shared the same values I do, an amazing thing was happening all around: people were connecting and reaching out to each other. Suddenly I was surrounded by kindness and sincerity everywhere I went. I connected with friends I hadn’t seen in years. I talked to strangers who shared the same concerns and fears about the future. I realized that we have power in numbers, even when we feel most alone.
I saw someone in a photo carrying a sign after the election that read: “Are We Awake Yet?”
Yes, I am awake. And this election has sparked a fire in my heart. But I realized that just hitting the streets wouldn’t solve the real obstacle at hand: uniting with my fellow Americans, sharing ideas without alienating others, only speaking to echo chambers and gaining a better understanding of perspectives different from my own.
There’s a lot of work to do and I made a vow to myself that I would take my civic duty more seriously by participating in all forms of government, holding elected officials accountable, voicing my concerns with friends and family and most importantly, traveling as a political act.
“Travel as Political Act” is the title and premise of a book by travel guru Rick Steves, which hits home the idea that travel connects people, helps us understand the world and will help us work together to create new solutions facing our nation and world.
We have to get outside of our bubbles and talk to each other if we are truly going to change anything. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.
How did this election impact you? Comment below and share your story.