Choosing Priorities in a Time of Uncertainty

Well it’s been coming. We’ve seen it coming. And yet, in a conversation with a dear friend today, she summed it up, “I think I’ve been in denial.”

Change is never easy. Even though our lives change all the time. We transition from one life stage to the next. We move from elementary school to middle school. From middle school to high school. From high school to college. From student to adult. From child to parent.

And every four to eight years we change leaders in our country. Depending on your point of view that change can be “good” or it can be “bad”.  Sometimes it’s not that much of a change at all.

This time though, going from the 44th POTUS to the 45th POTUS is like plunging yourself into freezing cold water after you’ve been in a nice hot bath. It’s a shock. I think this is for several reasons. At the most basic it is because the values and mission of the two men is so completely different. They are Americans. That they have in common. After that, their life experiences, what they hold dear, and how they approach others and the world is pretty much as big a difference as Black and White (and yes I did that on purpose).

So what to do now?

Well tomorrow I march. I will be attending the #womensmarchvt.

I am writing more. Writing very intentionally. Like this post.

And I’m setting my priorities.

In a time of uncertainty when it feels like ALL THE THINGS must be dealt with AT ONCE and you are receiving messages about ALL THE THINGS, and people you are connected with are freaking out, it’s hard to know what to do. It actually just might be easier to hide in a corner and avoid all the icky things.

As a professor I’m encountering a great deal of uncertainty from my students. While I have some who are clearly supportive of this change — whether or not they agree with the rhetoric that has happened — I have many others who have only known one president and have been able to gain great rewards because of this president as they have come to college. The least of which is being able to remain on their parent’s health insurance until they are 26!

So while this leadership change is hard for me, because I believe and have supported many of the social justice initiatives set forth by the Obama Administration, it is even harder for the students I teach. And on a side-note don’t waste my time by trying to convince me that colleges are coddling our students. If you make that statement I would encourage you to think carefully and critically about the influence of parenting on whether or not a young person comes to college needing to be “coddled”. My students are strong, thoughtful, caring, passionate, and worried. But for them, this was their first real presidential election where they could actually participate. And the rhetoric was by far the worst I have ever seen it — so I can only imagine what they are coping with.

I realize though, that because I’ve been through this type of change before, I actually know what to do. My students, however do not. So what follows is my advice to my students…and others…who are overwhelmed by the changes coming and don’t know what to do about it.

Step 1: Prioritize. You cannot and should not try to stay on top of all of the issues that are going to be impacted by this change. While this is hard to do, now is the time to focus in on two or three of the most important to you. Yes issues of climate change, human rights, health care, trade, education, land management, world aggression are all important — but given the scope of the change we are now in the midst of, you’ve got to hone in on what you really believe in. What you value. Be confident that there are others around you who are focusing in on the other areas. For me it is:

  • Education
  • Health Care
  • Women’s Rights

That doesn’t mean I don’t think climate change isn’t important, it is just that I value education, health care and women’s rights as social justice issues and feel they will need a lot of attention, and voice.

Step 2: Stay Informed. Avoid talk shows and pundits. Rather, find several places where you can go to get unbiased reports of legislation. I recommend @housefloor and @senatefloor on Twitter because it reports what is happening throughout the day. Use C-Span to watch and gather information and visit the Congressional Record. I also believe strongly in a non-profit press so highly recommend ProPublica and here in Vermont, VTDigger.

Step 3: Take Action. It’s a simple fact that our Senators and Representatives will listen when we CALL. If we like what they are doing we need to let them know. If we do not like what they are doing we need to let them know. You can do this by engaging in protest (as I’m doing in Montpelier on Jan. 21), you can do this by sharing content on social media, and you can do this by actually engaging with your elected officials — whether or not you actually voted for them. Your Senators and Representatives often have forms you can fill out on their websites, but don’t be afraid to actually dial your phone and speak to a human.

Step 4: Be resilient, be resolute, be ready for the long haul. I take inspiration from individuals who really know what it is like to fight, again and again for equal rights and for social justice. The rhetoric of this election cycle has been horrible and has set a tone that each of us must fight against. I look to the wise words of Rep. John Lewis to keep me focused. Who do you look to?

“Fifty years later, those of us who are committed to the cause of justice need to pace ourselves because our struggle does not last for one day, one week or one year, but it is the struggle of a lifetime, and each generation must do its part,” Lewis said. “There will be progress, but there will also be setbacks. We must continue to have hope and be steeled in our faith that this nation will one day become a truly multiracial democracy.”

And with that….I’ve got a march to get ready for.

 

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