Four years ago I had little to no idea what was going on in this country. All that I knew was that my parents were scared, my grandmother was exuberant, and my friends were in the same boat as I was. I wasn’t sure how the next four years would affect me, but I knew something within me would change.
My mom approached my dad and me this time four years ago wondering if we would go to the women’s march in my local city. I had always advocated (as much as a thirteen-year-old could) about gender and racial equality, so I figured I should go. All I knew is that I had heard the President-Elect’s words and I did not agree with them. “Build the wall” was heard each week in the news, and I knew that didn’t sit right with me. I knew the things he said about women and that also didn’t sit right with me. Back then I was shyer than I am now, so I hesitated to go. I often get overstimulated with crowds, the sun shining, and loud noise. But I decided I would go.
I made a sign featuring my cat with the words “Not my purresident,” thinking I had to come up with something that was at least a little clever although my heart wasn’t truly in it. When I think about it now, I really didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know the effects of that day and what that would mean for the rest of his term. I didn’t know that a lonely ember sparked that day would create the national fire. I didn’t even really know the meaning my sign held. To be frank, I was following blindly.
Four years ago I remember seeing so many people close to me in pain. It confused me that it affected them so much. Why were so many almost mourning? I was just a tween who really didn’t know why politics was so important. Well, since then I have had a few rude awakenings.
I marched down my city’s streets to different female singers side by side with people I didn’t know. I looked at other people’s signs, envying their creativity. I looked at their outfits in awe of the color and vibrance. I looked around at a crowd of people that made me feel like I was the odd one out. I felt alone in a crowd of hundreds if not thousands. They knew something I didn’t. They were marching for something I didn’t know existed. Their strides came from toil, experience, trauma, and tragedy. I was just walking to keep up with them. I’ve never been a very emotional person, so I questioned why people were so expressive, so affected. Throughout the event, I found myself confused time after time. Now, I am no longer confused.
Knowledge is Power
If I marched at that same march today, it would be completely different. I would know why I am holding a sign. I would know why so many were mourning. I would know why people would parade with purpose. I would know why they cared so much. I now know why.
I am a privileged, white, middle-class female. I have grown up not having to face racial discrimination. I have grown up not wondering where my next meal is coming from. I have grown up with an education that has helped me more than I could ever put into words. I could never know the struggles of so many. But I now know the struggles of some. I used to know the struggles of none.
Changing and Moving Forward
2020 has been a rough year, to say the least. I am so grateful that I have been so lucky during it, and I can’t begin to imagine what others have gone through. But I have experienced events in 2020 that have changed me.
I am not the same person I was last year, two years ago, three years ago, or four years ago. My cynicism has skyrocketed and my hope has faltered. My empathy has been recruited over and over again. My mind has been challenged by the events that have haunted me at night. My faith has been questioned and my beliefs have been tested. Isolation, fear, and uncertainty have followed me around like they have so many others. I have had nightmares where I have been scrambling to find a mask as I am left alone in a crowd exposed to the peril COVID brings. The day I’m writing this, we have reached 400,000 deaths across the U.S. It seems like the end isn’t in sight. However, something else I’ve learned is if there is no hope, there is no way. As Martin Luther King Jr. so wisely said,
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
From all I’ve learned over the last four years, I know so much more. I know why politics is so important. I know why our leadership matters. I know why every vote counts. Though pain has been a common theme over the last few years, I would have it no other way. Because of all of this, I have solved a piece of the puzzle. A part of me has been discovered. Will the end justify the means? That’s up to me to decide.
All I can say is I know now what I didn’t know then.