Dear Daughters #1 and #2,
You turned 18 and 16 this week — a week for the history books, and one that I hope marks your entry into a lifetime of civic engagement.You are too young to remember much about your maternal grandmother and you never had the opportunity to know your great-grandmother, a beloved teacher, community icon, and an early believer in the global community, who set an example for her family on how to live a service and values-oriented life. She lives on in all of us, especially you, Daughter #2, because you look so much like her. Thank you for the daily reminder that she is the woman I strive to be.
What would she be thinking, or more importantly, doing if she were alive today?
Your grandmother was a political activist, a Jack Kennedy Democrat, active on her county election board and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1960. She was invited to Kennedy’s inauguration in January, 1961 but there was a blizzard that week and my older brother had the mumps. Nine months later, I was born, the product perhaps of redirected political zeal and idealism.
What would my mother be thinking, or more importantly, doing if she were alive today?
Though I grew up with women who believed in politics and service, I also grew up in the wake of Watergate. One of my first political questions was to ask a teacher whether he thought Richard Nixon should be “impaired.”I’ll be honest with you. My peers and I were apathetic. Too young to protest the Vietnam war, though some of us wore POW/MIA bracelets, we were the first wave of the disillusioned. Watergate began the breakdown in trust of our political institutions. Ronald Reagan was elected the first time I voted for president. Many of us threatened to move to Canada then. Some of us disengaged politically, though concerns about nuclear energy and Africa sometimes united us. There were some memorable concerts.
Though it felt like breakthroughs had occurred, on the feminism front, there were still battles to be fought. You think I’m from the Dark Ages when I tell you about being discouraged from wearing pants to work or having to take typing tests for jobs that had nothing to do with typing (tests the male candidates did not have to take). You perk up a bit when I tell you about my own experiences with reproductive rights, though you have no idea how much harder it was to talk about and obtain birth control than it is now. I haven’t told you about my experiences in Thailand and Russia, when the men I was with, some of whom I respected, abandoned the values they practiced at home and acted disrespectfully towards women. I haven’t told you about the countless times, while at work, a man said or did something blatantly sexual towards me. I haven’t wanted to admit that I shrugged it off, laughed uncomfortably, and looked the other way.
As planes crashed into towers on 9/11, we went to your toddler music class, Daughter #1, where we briefly drowned out tragedy through song and I tried not to think of the world I had recently brought your baby sister into. We drove around all day, avoiding the television, but I couldn’t resist listening to the car radio. Ever intuitive, even at age 2, you, Daughter #1, asked me what was wrong. “Something happened,” I told you evasively.
I’m not shielding you anymore. You are 18 and 16 and this is your future. Something happened and I want you to be confronted by it every day. How you choose to respond is up to you.
Yesterday, while marching with 130,000 or so people of Seattle, I talked with a woman my age about how this march was affecting us. “I snapped at my family this morning,” she admitted. “So did I, ” I told her. We agreed that the march, that the need to march had stirred up so much emotion and urgency within us. As many a sign conveyed at marches around the country, women our age are incredulous that we have to fight for our rights all over again.
I’m interested in the multigenerational response to Trump and was lucky enough yesterday to have the opportunity to interview marchers of all ages, races, and genders to hear what they had to say. I heard anger and hope and pain and calls to action and solidarity and I felt better because of all of it. I have you both to thank for opening my eyes and my mind to what young people care about and the future they hope to create.
Maybe we have to have pivot points like this in history so that each generation can decide for itself what is worth fighting for. I can’t tell you what to fight for or how to fight for it. I can only tell you that I have been awakened from mid-life complacency and that I hope this is your political coming-of-age.
As you each take one step closer to adulthood, my hope is that you will never be apathetic and you will never allow anyone else to decide your destiny. Follow in the footsteps of your grandmother and great-grandmother and be the change you want to see in this world.
Here’s one young Seattle poet’s powerful response to our new government. You go, girl!