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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead
Every day, I wake up to headline after headline that breaks my heart.
Thousands of migrant children have been sexually abused while in United States government custody.
Over 1,000 hate groups are now active in the United States.
Hundreds of Native American families have no answers to what happened to their daughters, sisters, mothers, and aunts who were murdered or went missing.
Completely preventable measles outbreaks are becoming more widespread.
A man gets probation for rape committed while on probation for a different rape.
President Trump is attempting to appoint a climate change denier to a panel to discredit the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. Trump’s transgender military ban is reinstated. And 800,000 federal workers and their families are still trying to recover from the longest government shutdown in history.
I feel like I’m watching the world unravel in slow motion; it’s Groundhog Day for the moral disintegration of our country.
What do we do? What can we do?
I’m writing this for myself as much as I’m writing it for anyone else, because the truth is, I don’t know. I’m just one person, and the stakes are sky-high.
Today, my heart is breaking. How can this be the world in which we live? Where violence and dishonesty are a path to success, and we are back to being judged for the color of our skin, not the content of our character? Where science and reason and integrity no longer matter?
My heart is breaking. But I haven’t plastered my Facebook wall with statistics on the missing and murdered indigenous women or the #metoo movement. I haven’t written letters to the editor in abhorrence of the treatment of the unaccompanied migrant children in Customs and Border Protection custody, or gone door-to-door campaigning for candidates, or stood on the Capitol steps screaming at the top of my lungs, “The sky is falling!”
I practice “Facebook activism,” but honestly not as much as I should because I don’t want to offend anyone.
I know why I haven’t done these things: because they are hard, and I’m scared. I fear I won’t be able to eloquently convey the gravity of the climate crisis or explain the science as a non-scientist. I don’t know enough about politics to “debate.” As a survivor of domestic violence, willingly putting myself in dangerous situations with volatile people petrifies me.
Instead, I skim the headlines, and go about my day.
I smile and say, “Oh, I’m fine. You?” when asked the requisite, “How are you?”
I take a deep breath when I pick up my daughter from school and exhale: “How was your day, sweet love?” while my heart is breaking for the children ripped from their families. For African and Muslim Americans in fear of their lives and transgender military servicemen and servicewomen the president has decided are not worthy of serving our country, because this type of blatant racism and bigotry is becoming normalized in Trump’s America.
It’s easier and less painful to disengage, to get sucked in to apathy and believe that nothing we do will matter, or that if we do speak up, we will put ourselves in danger.
We cannot let fear keep us from taking action on these monumental humanitarian and environmental crises, because the sky is falling. The earth is warming at unprecedented rates, we are killing the oceans, the rich are getting richer and the poor and middle class and minorities are drowning in rising seas and inequity. We are on the verge of rendering the planet uninhabitable for human life, mere centuries or even decades from now.
There are signs of hope.
Millions of Americans are opening their eyes and speaking out against violence and racism and hate and climate change denial. Children across the globe are striking to demand government action to address climate change. And despite Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Accord, to date over 3,500 cities, counties, states, universities, businesses, and investors, representing more than 154 million Americans and $9.46 trillion of the U.S. economy have publicly declared “We Are Still In” and are committed to fighting climate change.
But knowing this is not enough. This does not help me to not feel helpless. What can I really do? How can I stay engaged without being paralyzed by the overwhelming knowledge that the world is hurtling toward self-destruction? That this country is inherently broken, and I can’t fix it?
I marched for women’s rights, human rights, science, and equal pay. I’ve signed petition after petition, meagerly supported campaigns, and voted in every election. I’ve called my elected officials and made my voice heard. This is just the start of what I can and must do.
My fledgling attempt is both simple and complex. I must take care of my heart. I wake up every morning, and I kiss my baby girl and husband, and thank the universe for the gift of them in my life. I make tea, sit on my back deck watching the sunrise, and breathe; because this quiet space is what I need to gain the strength and conviction I know I will need to continue this fight.
And when I start feeling depressed and hopeless, I remind myself that if we all just do one thing to make the world a better place, we will win.
We may live in a post-truth world today, but we don’t have to contribute to keeping it this way.
Pick something, anything, and start doing it. What keeps you awake at night and scared for your children’s future? Give your emotional energy to that and only that. Ignore the three-ring sh*t show that is the rest of current events; influence change where you can, so you don’t get bogged down with everything you can’t change.
Call your senators and representatives and tell them why you care about gun violence or health care or systemic racism or LGBTQ rights or the environment or refugees or equal pay. Volunteer at your local homeless shelter or food bank. Eat less conventional meat and processed foods. Stop using single use plastic and convenience packaging that is killing the planet. Make your voice heard, so we don’t let this disdain for humanity become normalized.
Most importantly, snap out of apathy: don’t stay stuck in inaction because you’re too tired/overwhelmed/scared/it’s the easy way out/someone else will fix things. You are someone else.
If we are not actively working to make this world a better place, we are passively working against it.
Know that for every single devastating act of violence and racial slur and alternative fact, there are hundreds of thousands, even millions, of opposite and stronger acts of immeasurable compassion and integrity and kindness.
A wise woman once told me when I was frustrated about not being able to make an impact, “Then stop being just one person.” Find like-minded friends or strangers, and support each other in being the change. There is no “Martyr’s Law” that says we have to do this alone. Together, we are not just one person.
And, if I’m going to take my own advice, I need to focus on the one thing that I can impact: for me, that is taking action on climate change. Right now, I’m going to call one of my senators, John Tester, and thank him for his dedication to address climate change, and ask him to continue his fight in Washington to make sure we find ways to reduce our emissions and take aggressive action.
I’m going to call Montana’s other two legislators and tell them that climate change is the single most important issue facing humanity today, and that it is morally reprehensible and in direct opposition to their Christian values to willfully ignore scientific facts and the greatest threat the human race has ever faced. Montanans will not remain silent.
I’m going to donate to organizations fighting climate change, and volunteer to help where I can. I’m going to make every change I can in my own life to reduce my minuscule contributions to climate change.
After that, I’m going to be present with my daughter and remind myself why I’m doing this difficult and heartbreaking work instead of turning a blind eye and believing someone else will fix it: because she deserves so much more than this ecological and moral disaster we as “the greatest nation on Earth” are leaving for her generation and those to come; and because it is my responsibility to teach her how to be a good person, how to love and respect herself and others, and how to change the world.