I can’t remember when I decided I couldn’t handle being politically engaged anymore.
Maybe it was around the time I watched the 2000 presidential election be decided by a Supreme Court decision because the nation simply wasn’t patient enough to wait for a recount to happen. Maybe it was in 2001 when I watched the winner of that election squander the sympathy and goodwill our nation had after 9/11 and turn it into an excuse to attack and kill the citizens of a country that had nothing to do with those attacks. Maybe it was more personal, the result of various personal challenges in the years that followed that left me feeling overwhelmed and unable to deal with hard news in the larger world.
Whatever the reason, I tuned out a lot in those years, focusing on my writing and on a few hours a week of local volunteer work in my own community, ignoring the helpless feeling I felt in the face of larger events. I figured I was at least doing something to make the world a little better, which was true enough. It would have to be enough.
That helpless feeling felt pretty familiar by the current presidential election. I hunkered down, listened to only as much news as I could bear, and prepared to cast my vote, locally and nationally, even as I grew more and more anxious–anxious about the level of hate and anger I was seeing; anxious about the way the republican presidential candidate’s policies would hurt loved ones who were part of the many groups that candidate attacked; anxious at the thought of someone who didn’t seem to understand basic constitutional protections, who lacked the impulse control to avoid angry tweeting at 3 a.m., gaining access to nuclear codes.
At the same time, I came to respect the democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, more and more, not agreeing with her on everything, but respecting much of the work she’d done domestically and abroad; respecting her extensive experience, knowledge, and willingness to do her homework, to listen and learn and change; respecting the restraint in the face of attack that meant that while I still disagreed with much of her approach to foreign policy, she would be someone I could trust with those nuclear codes, because she wouldn’t be making decisions on a whim when someone insulted her, or in a fit of anger in the middle of the night.
I found myself feeling actively excited about her candidacy, but as the polls tightened, my feelings of concern and anxiety and outright fear for what the future might look like grew. I alternately tried to ignore the news and read it obsessively online.
Then one day last week while I was trying to set that anxiety aside and focus on my writing, it hit me: if I really believed the fate of my country and the world was at stake, why was I being so passive about it? A few not-writing days wouldn’t destroy my career–and I lived in Arizona, which for once was a swing state. There had to be something I could do, even in these last few days. Everything else could wait.
I spent a couple mornings making phone calls. Then this weekend I joined the Get Out the Vote effort and began knocking on doors. I did both these things with some trepidation. Talking to complete strangers was a bit outside my comfort zone, and I feared I would only become more anxious and scared if I did it.
That didn’t happen.
Not only was talking to people easier than I feared, not only did I have some great conversations with would-be voters, but the more I did, the more my anxiety went down. I no longer felt depressed and hopeless. I felt actively hopeful. I was doing something.
Maybe that would make a small difference. Lots of people were doing something. Maybe all those small differences would add up to a big difference.
After a while, I was even having fun. I felt … optimistic. It’d been a long time since I’d felt this way.
I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, though I know what I’m hoping for–hoping so hard for, for the sake of us all.
But whatever happens, I no longer feel despair. I do feel like after tomorrow, I’ll know the shape of the next fight I need to play my own small part in.
I’m feel like I’m ready to start fighting again, and I’m hopeful I can hold on to that feeling this time.
I can’t do everything. I can’t change everything. But I can do something.