On Politics, Silence & Speaking Your Mind
When I was in high school, I identified as a Republican. Looking back, this strikes me as odd because I didn’t know why I was a Republican. I didn’t understand the party platform or the core values promoted by conservatives. My parents were Republicans, though, and I did a good job of parroting their views.
Also, whenever I walked into my dad’s shop, I’d find my dad puttering around with Rush Limbaugh’s voice running in the background on the radio. By the time I left for college, Limbaugh’s voice and ideas became more and more grating to my ears. But I didn’t have the words—or understanding of public policy—to identify why. When I was eighteen, I remember feeling that Limbaugh wasn’t a very kind or compassionate human.
During my first year of college, I began to question my political viewpoints and perspective. Calling myself a Republican didn’t feel right because I didn't truly understand what “conservative values” meant. The more I learned about history, politics, and policy, the more I questioned the value system I embraced in high school.
I took my first women’s studies course at CSU, Chico from Dr. Moon Jee Yoo-Madrigal. Her research, teachings, and mentorship led me to feminism, volunteer work at a rape crisis center, writing, and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I took all of Dr. Madrigal’s courses because she was an outstanding teacher, and it was the first time I felt connected to history. The coursework wasn’t solely focused on learning about dead white men. Instead, we dived into what women contributed to history, and I learned about all the ism’s (like sexism, racism, classism, ageism, and more).
As my first course with Dr. Madrigal came to a close, I remember feeling angry, as if the wool had been pulled over my eyes. I’d walk to class and ask myself questions like:
Why didn’t we learn about “ism’s” in high school? And why didn’t I learn about Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Sojourner Truth, or Gloria Steinem, or the many other women who were absent from textbooks?
Attending classes, in addition to reading, writing, and listening, helped me clarify my value system. I stopped identifying as a Republican and started calling myself a Democrat.
I graduated from CSU, Chico in 2003 with a job in the investment management industry. I felt grateful to have the job, yet I had my doubts about the position. I should have listened to my instinct because I resigned from the job one year after I started working in the industry. I was drinking too much wine and shopping for stuff I didn’t need, all to fill a void of deep unhappiness.
I felt like a fake in the investment management industry; that I couldn’t voice my feminist views without a huge fall-out. Instead of remaining silent, I took a risk, went back to graduate school for a second master’s degree in Education and Women’s Studies, and started working in the non-profit sector.
During this time, I worked odd jobs and spent time volunteering at a rape crisis center in Sacramento, CA. By 2004, I landed my first paying job in the field of victim advocacy. The pay was very low, but I felt good about my transition away from the investment management sector to victim advocacy. I worked at a local rape crisis and domestic violence center, and I felt like I was actually helping women and children.
I felt incredibly lucky because I was working with a wide range of people from different cultural backgrounds, in addition to professionals in our community (like police officers, district attorneys, and professionals from other non-profit organizations). My job helped me learn how to listen, be empathetic, and see that politicians—on both the left and right—cared about ending violence against women and children.
Sadly, increased responsibilities, and being the ultimate back-up for my agency’s 24-7 crisis line, led to burnout and depression. I left the agency to work on a short-term project for a research evaluation firm and then I started a new job at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) around 2006. My time at CALCASA was another political turning point for me.
At that point, I was the Public Affairs Program Coordinator, and my boss was the lobbyist and Director of Public Affairs for CALCASA. My position gave me a different perspective on politics and policy because I learned how lobbying and public policy work. In addition, I learned how to use social media and blogging as a force for good. One of the most important lessons I took away from my time at CALCASA was this: No matter who you are—or what you believe—listening, empathy, compassion, and hard conversations must happen, especially when it comes to public policy. Making and implementing policy isn’t a game or a joke because policy impacts real humans in the real world.
In December 2007, I created this website—RowdyKittens.com. I was still working for CALCASA full-time, and in my off hours I wrote blog posts, took photos, and learned about blogging because it was both a personal interest and part of my job. At the beginning of my personal blogging journey, I wrote short posts about politics, living simply, and whatever happened to be floating through my mind.
Soon after I started blogging, I made a decision to stop writing about politics and policy on RowdyKittens because it was such a big part of my day job. I didn’t want to bring work into my personal writing projects. In addition, writing about politics in my off hours fueled a serious case of burnout. (I deleted all of my old political posts from the archives because the writing was so bad!)
My feelings of burnout continued to grow. I would call my husband, Logan, on my lunch hours crying about office politics, and I felt angry because it seemed like the work we were doing wasn’t making a difference in the lives of women and children. Plus, there were the online trolls, politicians, and the media who continued to blame women and children for being raped.
When I left CALCASA to start my business, I intentionally avoided politics because I was so angry. I also avoided the news for years. I still voted, but my activism subsided. I didn’t write about policy, feminism, or humans rights because I was disillusioned with the system. In short, I didn’t believe my contribution to public policy made a difference. I don’t hold that view anymore, but it followed me around for a long time. Burnout does bad things to my body and mind.
Today, I find myself in a strange place. I never imagined that Trump would be elected President of the United States. I voted for Hillary Clinton and assumed she would win. Apparently, I was living in a filter bubble.
Naively, I thought candidate Trump was all talk. I didn't think he’d follow through on his campaign promises. I was wrong. President Trump’s wave of directives has reversed years of American policy on trade, healthcare, abortion, the environment, and immigration. With the stroke of a pen, Trump is rewriting many lives, and I don’t support his rhetoric or policy choices.
I don’t plan on turning RowdyKittens into a political blog. However, I need to be honest with you. I’m not a brand. I’m a one-woman shop. I write, I teach online classes, I take photos, and I also have political and policy opinions.
Yet, I hesitated to share this essay because:
I didn’t want to deal with online trolls.
I didn’t want people to assume—wrongly—that I hate Republicans.
I didn’t want people to yell at me for being “liberal.”
“I have visited many Muslim countries and felt welcomed and safe. Many times their hospitality has greatly outdone anywhere else in the world, and certainly anything that I've offered myself.
To those who say, 'Keep Muslims out of the US'—aside from the lunacy of such a concept, I’d start with asking: 'How many Muslims do you actually know? Have you ever visited a mosque?'
Furthermore, I'm tired of hearing that ‘we' (you/me/anyone) shouldn’t be speaking out about these things. If you don’t speak out, you are offering tacit approval of systematic oppression. If you don’t use your voice now, why should anyone listen to you later? What will you tell a future generation that asks 'Where were you?'
History asks us: What would you have done during the holocaust, times of slavery, etc.? And the bottom line is, most of us really have no idea... we *hope* that we would have done the right thing, but there's no way to know for sure. Except now you have a real-time chance to answer that question. What will your answer be?”
I wholeheartedly agree with Chris’s post, and I’m thankful he wrote it because I’ve been silent for too long.
Further reading & action steps: