Sunday Reflections: Advice for Graduating Seniors – It’s All Political
Last night I watched the Graduate Together special in which the class of 2020 was honored and President Barack Obama gave a commencement address. In that address he talked about how the class of 2020 would be our leaders and gave them, frankly, good advice about doing so with honesty, dignity and respect. It was, as most commencement speeches are, an inspired speech that reflected the current times – because how could you not mention them? – and asked our graduating class to go out and make the world a better place.
Online, there was push back. People were upset that President Obama made his commencement speech political. But here’s the deal, whether we like it or not, everything is political. Especially right now.
Everything is a political act.
Voting is a political act. Not voting is a political act, it’s just not a very good one.
For many of the kids graduating this month, simply having the audacity to exist is a political act.
Many of our kids have learned very early in life just how important politics is at every level. They have had to fight for the right to exist. To be safe. To be heard. To be fed and healthy.
But many of our kids do not. I know because I constantly hear friends and family say things like, “Oh I don’t get involved in politics.” Which means that they have probably never had to fight for their right to exist.
As I grow older, I am learning how very important politics is at every level. I used to be less engaged in local politics. I know, I’m ashamed of me too. But I have watched as other states have followed the advice of scientists and studied the scrolls of history and made more measured plans as they seek to respond to the current pandemic. In the meantime, my governor has thrown cautioned to the wind. Even as my state has growing death rates we are re-opening. Thankfully there are pockets where local government is choosing a different, more measured approach based on science. Because politics at every level matters.
Texas has had minimal testing for Covid-19. A couple of weeks ago residents of the county in which I live learned that a unit came to offer testing on a Sunday, but the local judge had ordered that no one tell the general public so that they would not get tested. We will never know the true numbers at any level for this pandemic because the tests we have are faulty (I’ve read they can have as high as a 40% false negative rate) and many leaders are purposely trying to keep the numbers low. It’s all political.
If I could impart any wisdom to the graduating class of 2020 it would be this: It’s all political. So make sure that you are involved in every way to help shape those politics. Start before you turn 18 and never stop.
And it’s more than voting for top leadership every 4 years. Vote in every election. Go to school board and local city council meetings. Add your local, state and national representatives into your contacts and contact them regularly. Hold them accountable for their actions. Demand transparency and accountability. Make your voice heard.
A large majority of the teens who are graduating this month will be able to vote in the 2020 presidential election. Do that. Do not let what is arguably one of the most important elections in the history of our nation in your lifetime go by without casting your vote.
You would think that voting, an important part of our government, would be easy, but it is not. Every where you turn there are road blocks designed to keep many of our most marginalized citizens quiet. Gerrymandering, for example, is still rampant. As are steps to dismantle the Voting Rights Acts. Right now, our nation is embroiled in debate about whether or not we will let citizens cast their votes by mail even though it may be the safest way to do so because we are in the midst of a deadly viral pandemic. There is a lot of push back against mail in voting even though our military has been voting by mail as far back as the Civil War and millions of other citizens vote by mail because of travel, disability, and more. People at the top work so hard to silence voters because they don’t truly want the people to be heard. Make them listen anyway.
The issues at hand are vast and complex. Institutional racism, sexism, and poverty are just some of the issues. Growing threats of authoritarianism. The Teen was horrified to learn the other day that there is a small movement to dismantle the 19th Amendment, which gives women the right to vote (specifically, it initially gave white women the right to vote. Rights for other groups of women would not come until much later.) There are roadblocks and hurdles and pushback. Fight to be heard and valued and respected.
There will be a lot of intentionally placed hurdles designed to prevent a large number of our graduating seniors from succeeding. And many of them are starting out with so many disadvantages right from the get go. The world is, sadly and infuriatingly, designed like that.
If you come from a position of privilege, fight for those who are intentionally being pushed out of the conversation. Use your power to bring other voices to the table. Learn when to speak, and when to listen. Don’t talk over or for others, but demand that they be heard. Understand that for any community to truly work, everyone has to have a voice.
Use your voice. And listen to other voices.
This is it. This is your moment. Make it as political af because you have a voice and a right to be seen, heard, respected and valued. You are turning the page into the next chapter of your book, so help write it. We need you. And I’m sorry that we have failed you.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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