With a bit of extra time on my hands I’m becoming consumed with our nation’s history, politics, and judicial system. The white Stanford rapist who received a misdemeanor sentence for a violent felony against a woman, Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, and the massacre in Orlando have left me feeling like I’m watching a movie about a dystopian society. Through our travels we’re submersing ourselves in our nation’s history by visiting many historic cities and I can’t help but think this is definitely NOT what the colonists had in mind.
When I was growing up and learning about how our democracy is supposed to work I felt empowered because I naively believed once I was of voting age I could make a difference simply by voting. Now that I’ve learned how our political system is beholden to lobbyists I feel less empowered and more enraged.
It also never occurred to me while I was growing up that our nation was still so split in half, just as it was leading up to the Civil War. Each day I wake up to new evidence that our lawmakers and judges are empowered by those who elected them to restrict reproductive healthcare to women, allow men who brutally attack women to mingle in society with little more than a slap on the wrist, create laws and reinforce biases that discriminate against people because they are not white heterosexuals, and make sure we can more easily purchase military-grade assault weapons than an abortion.
What scares me more than our relationship with lobbyists about all of the above: I live among millions of people who vote to keep these things in tact. Millions of my fellow Americans are happy that the NRA has lobbied our lawmakers so hard that we can’t get a single common sense gun control law passed. Millions of Americans hold their religious beliefs so strongly that they demand our government incorporate these beliefs in our budget decisions and in our laws against the recommendations of the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Millions of Americans still believe the color of our skin and the biology of our sexuality separates us.
Just coming off 5 days in Nantucket I can assure you the founding 8 men of that community would never have settled for any of this. In fact they were far more progressive in the mid-1600’s in how they shaped their governing laws than we are today. When religious clergy disembarked their ships in Nantucket in the 17th century they were promptly put back on their ships and told there was no place for their religion in that new government and they were told to tell their clergy friends not to bother trying to come to Nantucket either. Eventually the Quaker religion took hold and became a foundation for equality among the Nantucket people. When the founding 8 found themselves in a battle over rights with the tradesmen they brought to the island to help them establish it, the battle played out without any bloodshed. This is something Nantucketeers are proud of to this day. Instead they used other tactics to exercise their discontent and eventually came to a resolution.
Should I think about moving to another country where the population’s beliefs are more aligned with my own so I don’t feel I’m in a constant state of conflict in this divided nation? Should I accept the United States for what it is and walk away with all the skills and knowledge I gained from living here and apply my energy to a country that seems more progressive? I’m lucky in the sense that regardless of the opportunities my forthcoming MS in global health sciences will provide me, my existing expertise provides me with job opportunities just about anywhere I want to live in the world.
But if I walk away and give up on America, evil wins and the power of one loses. Bigots, racists, sexists, and violence wins. Simply living here isn’t enough though. I feel now more than ever each of us MUST open our minds to intellectual discourse that moves us forward together, not divided. A divided nation will not thrive. An angry nation will crumble on top of its anger just as individuals do. A violent nation will always being paying for bloodshed.
When you live in a democracy you don’t always get your way. My hope is that every person who lives here wants our country to be safe, fair, and strong. If we could agree on those three things we may be able to work towards understanding how to make those three things possible not at the expense of some but for the benefit of all.
Now is the time for those of us who have the passion for a true democracy to become activists the way our ancestors were. Nantucket was ahead of the rest of the country by 92 years in abolishing slavery. That statistic alone is full of inspiration. Women had rights on Nantucket in the 17th century that women elsewhere could only dream of. They were business owners and had full authority as heads of households while their husbands were away at sea more than a hundred years before women won the right to vote. When their husbands returned these women were equal partners in decision making. The women of Nantucket hold a special place in the suffragette movement making strides and pushing the nation forward.
These people didn’t have Facebook to sling idiotic statements at each other, they sat in each other’s homes and talked, debated, and came up with plans. They were rooted in facts and knowledge and they used this knowledge to move forward. If we can’t do the same through intellectual discourse, what was all of their hard work for?