I started to feel it the summer of 2020.
COVID-19 had started to shake things loose. We had survived the end of the school year but so many questions remained. How long were things going to be locked down? What was happening in other cities and states? What was the rate of infection and were we doing everything we could to stay healthy and safe? Was our leadership doing enough? Did our leadership even care? Why did one state appear to be handling COVID-19 better than another state?
People had time to think and reflect because we had nothing else to do. We didn’t have sports to play. We didn’t have commutes tacked onto our workdays. We didn’t have movie theaters or shopping centers to file into for entertainment. So when news about Ahmaud Arbery’s death by the hands of neighborhood vigilantes broke, people had time to watch the video and discuss. Then more people started to discuss Breonna Taylor.
Then the eight-minute video of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officers who refused to stop choking the life out of him as he begged for breath.
People had time to not only watch the video but absorb the meaning of the video, listen to the stories of other black and brown men and women who were saying “this is our life,” and discuss what needed to be done to change it.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, protests became the way to make voices heard. People risked their lives, put on face masks, and took to the streets in nearly every major city and many small towns across the country. When I decided to join a friend, our youth pastor, and a former student at the family march in Houston, I was surrounded by thousands of masked protesters with one goal in mind: change for a better tomorrow for all Americans.
For the first time in my life, something just felt different.
Regardless of who one voted for or political persuasion, the majority of Americans entered the night of November 8, 2016, believing that by the time we went to bed, Hillary Clinton would be declared the winner and would become the first woman president of the United States. Texas, while already moving towards a deeply purple state, was solidly polled to go for Donald Trump, so I did not feel that my vote for a third-party candidate would go wasted. I wasn’t excited about the Democratic nominee, but I knew that she would be a capable president. I wasn’t worried about the future of the country. I honestly expected just more of the dysfunctional same from Washington, D.C.
When it became clear that Donald Trump had won the electoral college despite a decisive loss of the popular vote (neither one won the majority of the vote and it is important to remember that Clinton still defeated Trump by two percentage points), I was devastated. I wallowed in sorrow for a couple of days, constantly watched news updates, and finally decided that I was just going to have to hope that he would surround himself with the right people and that Republicans would guide him to govern for all Americans, not just those who angrily showed up at the polls to vote for him, determined to stick it to liberals.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
But as spring turned to summer in 2020, as we faced down a global pandemic, as we were inundated with one piece of bad news after another, something felt different. People of all ages and walks of life were motivated. Yes, there were those who complained about masks and claimed that COVID-19 was a global conspiracy to bring down the American president, but the majority of Americans started to see the cracks of our society that had been there all along.
I felt something different in my students when we returned to school in August. They were asking questions and challenging the status quo. They had spent their time at home over several months getting informed. There were and are a lot of concerns nationwide about the amount of conspiracy theory-driven social media that young adults are consuming, but my students were demonstrating a desire to know and they were seeking answers from mainstream sources. I would be naive to believe that it was all of them, but it was enough to convince me that they were done with the nonsense they had been handed for years. They were going to find the answers on their own and they were going to do everything they could about it in the near future.
Then I saw former students of voting age speak up on social media about voting and encouraging their peers to get out there and vote. They were pushing back on older adults that they love and respect and standing up for the issues that matter to them most. In the last several weeks, we’ve seen those very young people vote in droves. After years of young adults believing that their vote doesn’t matter, they have decided that it does matter and they are going to do everything in their power to make change happen.
I’ve watched voting numbers in Texas soar. Despite fears about voter suppression tactics still being attempted with only two days left before the election and skyrocketing coronavirus cases, people all over the country have decided that they aren’t leaving anything to chance. Texas has surpassed 2016’s total voting numbers with our early vote. Other states are on the same track. And I live in a county that not only made voting easy, safe, and possible, but also made it fun.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t frightened about what will happen next week. I am the most frightened I’ve ever been about the future of my country and the most hopeful I’ve ever been about real, lasting, impactful change. The election won’t be over on Tuesday, November 3. Coronavirus won’t disappear on November 4. All of our problems will not go away on January 20. But I’m hopeful about the future because people not only want change, but they are fighting for it. As Evanescence says, I am going to use my voice, because change is coming and I want to be there when it happens.