I guess it started about five years ago. Late Summer, early evening. I’m at a park behind an elementary school down the street, pushing my daughter on the swing. She’s five, about to start kindergarten. There’s a “Welcome Back” event going on at the school, so there are a number of kids about. Two young girls take the swings to my right, chatting away as kids do.
“They took away my art class,” said one. “That was my favorite.”
“They took away music, too.”
“But at least we get another recess.”
They went about their play, not understanding the enormity of what they had just said. But I couldn’t un-hear it, nor would I ever forget it.
I’m an English teacher, and I see many first-year college students. The first paper I assign in most of my classes is a personal narrative. I find it easier to get people into writing if they’re able to write about themselves.
One stayed after class, told me she wanted to write about addiction.
“Yours?” I asked.
“Someone close?” She stared at the floor.
I get more and more of these each year. Stories about friends, parents, brothers and sisters, but all of them, every single one, contain the same line:
“I just don’t know what to do.”
Like many sons, I often turn to my father for advice. How to fix some broken thingy, or how to manage the family’s finances.
He’s done well for himself; he worked 30 years as an engineer for the same company, saved, and retired at 55, free of worry about how to make ends meet.
One day, as we’re talking about how job tenure has dropped below four years in most fields, how pensions no longer exist, and how the average young person will have almost 12 jobs in a lifetime, he tells me that this is because we no longer care about American workers.
Engineers are nothing if not precise.
Every day, it seems, there are new and terrible stories about people with power abusing that power, abusing people, especially women with less power.
Then they started speaking up, and the power started to change hands.
I caught mom nodding her head at a news report, so I asked if she had any of these stories of her own.
Every day I see people trying to teach me how to hate. They tell me about religion, about where people were born, about how skin color is the best way to identify my enemies.
They want me to be afraid.
They need me to be afraid.
Because if I don’t see the differences, I’ll come to the conclusion they truly fear – I’ll discover that most of us are almost economically identical, and the sheer tonnage of our shared interests make our differences truly silly.
And we outnumber them ten thousand to one.
I’m in my classroom one evening some months ago, speaking to a particularly smart group of young students. Heather Heyer’s death is in the front of my mind. We talk about Nazis marching in the streets. Bright as my students are, they’re all too young to have anything in memory to compare this to. Some seem to almost accept it as the way the world is now.
“This is not normal.” I tell them. “This is not who we are.” I’m emphatic, passionate, more so than usual. They notice.
One of the more vocal members of the class challenges me, as I often encourage my students to do.
“Well why don’t you do something about it then?”
Speechless, I fumble for an answer, both embarrassed at my lack of one and flattered that she considers me someone who should do something about it.
It is a seed, planted very deep, and it would grow.
This is my first campaign of any kind. I’m qualified, and capable, but completely inexperienced. I’m up against all the big money in a district that has been red since I was a small boy. But none of that matters.
I’m running because people need what they’re not getting. I’m running because my neighbors are struggling, as I have struggled, and I can help. I’m running because corporations are not people, and trickle-down economics is a lie. I’m running for my students, because cutting taxes for the rich and then gutting our public schools to make up the difference is wrong. I’m running because an Ohioan dies of an opioid overdose every 5 hours. I’m running because Mom taught me respect. I’m running because our politicians talk endlessly about jobs, but never about wages. I’m running to win a job so I can put that job at risk each and every day after to help the people in my district.
And I’m going to win.