I don’t often get riled up by politics but with the recent election results, I couldn’t help myself. I went through various stages of depression, disbelief, and anger over the fact that our country is so divided and chose an individual who represents morals and philosophies so opposite from my core beliefs. It wasn’t until I met with a student, whom I tutor, that my frustration transformed into rage.
My student is in fourth grade and we work together on developing his reading, writing, and word study skills. He is curious and hard working and hopes to be a professional tennis “superstar”. This is why he studies at home, so he can practice almost 8 hours of tennis each day. During last week’s session we were discussing possible topics for an upcoming research project. I wanted this to be completely his choice and on an issue that interested him. He asked me, “Ms. Sarah, how did you feel after the election?” I wasn’t sure how to respond to this. As a former public school educator, I tried to avoid any conversations around my personal beliefs or political stances. But with this simple question, I couldn’t help but tell him, I was sad and really disappointed by the results. Within an instant, he poured out so many emotions and reactions. His family is Pakistani and of the Muslim faith and even though he was born in the United States, after Donald Trump was elected, he couldn’t shake a lurking sense of fear within him. He told me, “My mom told me what Donald Trump has said about Muslims and immigrants and people he doesn’t want in this country. I’m really afraid.”
I left my tutoring session just so upset and infuriated by the injustice and our current national situation. How wrong it is that a child should feel unsafe by the people elected to be in charge of the government? That an American born citizen could feel that their country is not really theirs! What’s even worse that the results of an election did not ignite a sense of pride or wonder but created a cloud of worry and fear. A ten year old should not have to grapple with these feelings of uncertainty or hopelessness. Driving home, my heart beat quickened and I could feel words pooling on my tongue. The words action, action, action kept repeating over and over again. How can I, a simple writer and teacher, do anything that might matter?
And then I remembered my seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Harder who started me on my own writing journey. “Your words have power. You need to share them and use them.” she had told me. People don’t know what I am thinking or wondering unless I tell them. I use my blog and my personal writer’s notebooks as a way to process my own thinking but rarely do I direct my words to a specific audience, let alone a targeted person. After last week, that all changed. I went home and immediately went to my laptop and furiously typed a letter to my Senators and Congressional representatives. I insisted that they look beyond the lines of their party and change the rhetoric to reassure that this country belongs to ALL. I felt a need to demand a response as my representative. Within 30 minutes I had three freshly printed letters to be mailed to their district offices. This is what I wrote:
Dear Sen. Cornyn,
I am a concerned citizen in Houston, TX. With the recent news of the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency, there is much angst across America. While you represent the Republican Party, you also hold the responsibility to represent me, one of your Texan constituents. And I am writing out of utter embarrassment and anger of what the election and the discussions that are taking place in our government.
I am a teacher, Senator. I work with children in elementary students and with children who are not just of privilege and wealth but many diverse students. In fact many of my students are African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims, all who are left feeling hurt, confused, and attacked after this election’s results. As a teacher, I feel it is my responsibility to not just educate but comfort my students and reassure them that our country is good and wants the best for them. How can I do that when the rhetoric from the Republican Party and Donald Trump is one of hate? How do you help students who are afraid of the outcome of their own government? How do we comfort our children to know that our government and the people we elect are here to take care of us and have our best interests at heart?
I want you to know about one student I teach whose family is Pakistani and are of the Islamic faith. His parents are amazing citizens, well educated, and both remarkable doctors. Today, his mother told me that her 4th grade son has been crying and up all night this week, out of fear for what will happen to him because of his faith and his ethnicity. He may not fully understand what is happening in our country but he hears the news and the words about “registering Muslims” and “illegal immigrants”. Even though he was born here, he is hearing language that tells him, he does not belong. This is not right and this is not what our country was built on.
And so, I am asking you to look beyond just the lines of your party, Senator, and consider the welfare of our youngest citizens. What message do you want them to carry with them into the future? How are YOU going to change the rhetoric and reassure Texans that this is their America. I am asking you today to use your influence to think about the young Americans who are hurting or are scared right now after this election. I want you to think about what YOU will do to reassure us, who do not feel like this America belongs to us anymore. You have an enormous responsibility as our elected official and Senator. I trust you will make good choices.
I don’t want to just stop here. My writing has almost become the fuel to pushing me to want to be more aware and more involved in the decisions that impact not just me but my family. My words have power and it’s not just power in communicating to others. Instead, I believe, that my words have an ability to ignite me to push beyond my comfort zone. I know what I have to say matters not just to me, but to so many others. I hope that my voice only gets louder and louder and louder so our leaders and elected officials have no other choice but to listen.