This Election Cured Me of Political Apathy & Helped Me Find My Voice -- for My Kids

hillary clinton rallyI'm almost ashamed to admit it, but up until this election, I've never considered myself to be a particularly political person. Even now, it feels strange to identify as such. Maybe it's because my parents were hippies who raised me to question authority and maintain a healthy suspicion of government at all times (which hasn't changed). Maybe it's because I've historically been plagued with the same sense of weary apathy so many members of my generation suffer from (and yes, I'm talking about the much-maligned Generation X). But one thing's for sure: This election has definitely cured me of that apathy. As a mother, I feel I have no choice but to actively participate in politics at this point -- and I feel a passion to do so like never before.

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It's not that I never cared or had strong opinions about the issues at hand. It's more that I always feared (and still do, on some level) that the president is little more than a figurehead whose plans and intentions -- no matter how good -- are frequently just blocked by Congress. The Bush vs. Gore election of 2000 -- the first time I ever voted, at the age of almost 24 -- did little to convince me otherwise, I'm afraid. Quite the opposite. Did my vote really matter? What was the point of believing in any of it?

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When Barack Obama was elected president, I started to feel hopeful again. Maybe change really was possible! But watching our increasingly beleaguered and frustrated commander-in-chief fight obstacle after obstacle over the course of his two terms brought that old sense of despair right back. I truly believed, and believe, that Obama had and has our country's best interests at heart -- but he was too often rendered powerless by government officials who were only looking out for themselves (and others like them).

This is not to say that Barack Obama didn't accomplish a great many very positive things as president -- because, for the record, he absolutely did. (Among those accomplishments: Adding 13.7 million new jobs over a 69-month period. Giving health coverage to millions and millions of previously uninsured Americans. Facilitating communications with Cuba. Being a proponent of marriage equality, which was legalized during his tenure. The list goes on.)

Still. We all know he wanted to do so much more, and he could have, if only he'd had the necessary support. It wasn't enough that millions of Americans believed in Obama and wanted the same things. Would it ever be enough? It wasn't so much that I was disillusioned, because I didn't have any illusions to begin with. It was more that my worst fears were confirmed. 

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My worst fears about humanity were starting to be confirmed, too. Another reason I hesitated to make my political stance known was that some of my friends and family (not many, but some) were turning out to have vastly different views. My distaste for all things political only deepened as I observed people I otherwise respected jumping on the Obama birther bandwagon (for one thing). Being pathologically non-confrontational by nature, I chose to simply keep my mouth shut rather than engage in dead-end debates with people I wasn't ready to cut out of my life.

Then came 2016. My two older kids are at ages now (11 and 15) where they're aware of what's at stake for our country. They know that racism, misogyny, and xenophobia are wrong. They believe in equal rights. They understand that things like paying for health care and college tuition are major concerns for most families (including ours). They're worried, justifiably, about how a Trump presidency would affect their future.

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As a parent, I know that a huge part of my job is to do everything I can to make sure my kids have a bright future. How can I honestly say I'm doing everything I can if I don't make my voice heard? I'm still terrified that my vote won't make a difference. But I can't let that fear paralyze me. I can't sit idly by as my children try to process this nightmarish reality.

Because here's the thing: This election isn't just about Trump vs. Hillary. Not anymore. This election has exposed a horrifying truth about an extremely sizable portion of our population. I can't, in good conscience, tell my kids that most people out there are kind or tolerant. The jig is up: They know a whole lot of Americans think it's perfectly fine to treat women like garbage. To discriminate against other human beings based on the color of their skin, what they believe in or whom they chose to love. This election has polarized us in a way that's basically forcing us to re-prioritize the lessons we want to teach our kids.

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It's not just about who we vote for, it's about how we dissect and disseminate every ridiculously offensive thing that comes out of Trump's mouth in our children's presence so that they know EXACTLY how we feel about "locker room talk" and mocking the disabled and disparaging entire cultures. It's reacting and discussing these events in real time, with our kids. 

When I watched the last debate with my daughter and son, I was relieved by the accuracy of their perception and encouraged by their outraged reactions. They got it. I came away from the experience energized and encouraged. As disgusted as my kids unfortunately already are with the state of the world, they're not in any way apathetic. Not yet. They still have hope. So I have to choose to be hopeful, too. For their sake. I have to choose to believe that someday, somehow, things really will change for the better. I owe my kids that much.

 

Image via Michele Eve/Splash News

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