I was a remarkably obnoxious teenager, politically speaking. You name the bad opinion about politics as a whole, I had it: I thought that all politicians were the same and equally awful, that, that it was barely even worth following politics because nothing ever happened in Washington, that voting was a waste of time. I even had a phrase I enjoyed throwing out on occasion, one I thought myself way too clever for coming up with: “politics is nothing but intellectual prostitution.” You all get the picture: I was aggressively apolitical and especially on that first point above, blatantly wrong. I’m very much glad that I’ve changed since then, and have done work that actively pushes back against that mindset I used to have, but it’s still worth examining the ways in which that mindset was an example of the incredible privilege I am afforded by society.
In short, those awful opinions I held weren’t just wrong, they were wrong in a way only a person with incredible privilege can afford to be. Both political parties obviously are not the same, and while there are undeniably problems with our current political system, the absolute worst way to react to these problems is to wall yourself off from the system. But I had the ability to both believe that all politicians were equal and awful and divorce myself from politics, a luxury that a great many people do not have, because of my privileged political status. After all, for many people politics isn’t just an intellectual exercise. So many people in this country can’t divorce themselves from politics because politics are a matter of their rights. Which brings me to a discussion of how privilege interacts with that first problematic view I held, that both political parties are the same. Because here’s the thing: for so many people politics is of crucial importance because it matters quite a bit who is in power, since exactly one political party is dedicated to stripping rights from the most vulnerable in our society. For most, it is simply not true that both political parties are the same. But that is true for me.
Even today, in a world where the rights of more people are more profoundly and openly under active attack by the government than in any time period I can remember, I could actively divorce myself from politics and likely be entirely fine, because both parties are equally committed to my rights. Never in the history of the United States have politicians come for the rights of white, male, straight, cisgendered people. They have, however, come for the rights of literally every other group in America, when the more conservative party has been in power (and often when the more liberal party has been too). In other words, the opinions I held as a high-schooler - opinions very many still hold - were a failure of perspective: if something was true for me, I assumed, it must simply be true. If neither political party being in power had an effect on me, then they must be exactly the same. If engaging with politics was utterly inconsequential for me, it must be for everyone else. Privilege afforded me blindness.
Thankfully, this kind of privilege is one that does have a relatively simple solution: listen, for god’s sake. Care, dammit. People all around the world are calling out the incredibly high stakes politics have for their rights, and all you have to do is listen to what they say, accept that it is true, and then care about another human enough to act on that truth. I vote, petition, join the conversation, and otherwise participate in politics not because I think I myself have something to gain from doing so, but because I recognize that there are people who have so much to lose if the wrong decisions are made, and being a person I can live with means not staying silent. Voices of support matter, and in a political climate like ours, when it often seems like is all the stands between the current administration are people willing to fight against it, inaction and silence are forms of violence. Politics matter, politicians matter, and all it takes to realize that is listening and caring about the person you’re listening to. Maybe it’s too much to ask. But then again, if the kid I was in high school could be converted into who I am today by listening and caring alone, maybe anyone can be.
With excitement and optimism,