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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The sound of a clarion call

<nce dreamed of elected office. My fifth-grade teacher, now friends with me on Facebook, once commented online to ask me a question that went like this: “Are you still planning on being President someday?” Granted, we both were not talking about the White House, rather the Malacañang Palace. Fifth grade-me wrote an essay about one day becoming President of the Republic of the Philippines. After living in the United States for nearly a year, I saw what we didn’t have in the old country. Economic security and political freedoms were seemingly unheard of. I thought it would be brilliant that I could save it, build it up, and make it like the new place I called home.

Twenty-two-year-old me would disagree, after living here for twelve years. Even with my naturalization coming in a few years, a privilege I look forward to with pride, I would have certainly told fifth grade-me that America was no different than any other country. For all its power and might, striving for the apex of perfection, it was still an imperfect country of imperfect people, run by imperfect people. Some of them weren’t looking out for you, and some of whom were at varying degrees of trying and not succeeding so well. It was susceptible to many kinds of collusions, corruptions, horrors, breaches of rights and tragedies. Who would have thought that I could mark years of my life growing up with mass shootings, starting with the Amish schoolhouse shooting of 2006 and onward? Who would have thought that I would live in a country where we are unknowingly but “carefully taught” in some ways to be suspicious or to fear those who are different from us? And I say that for every kind of fear and suspicion in every direction of people. Who would have thought that those fears and insecurities would spread infectiously in the country, of all causes and effects, into the uncharted territory, especially after 2008? And now, we are just one week away from swearing into the American presidency a man who I and many people across the nation are disgusted by – while as many other people laud him.

I disavowed my hopes of a career in elected office in tenth grade, five years after declaring my intent for such a career. I had spent enough time watching the news seeing the mudslinging when Obamacare was being passed to knew I couldn’t stomach it. I had been idealistic, and the wheeling-and-dealing, name-calling, and mistrust made the idea of politics, well, sickening. Especially with all of that following the optimism of President Obama’s election campaign, the contrast made me feel worse. That sense never left me as the years marched on, and I used to be proud when I said that I wasn’t a fan of politics. And yet I would talk about it at dinner recounting the news with my father or at high school recounting the news with classmates. Even here at Carleton, I’ve had the privilege to observe more ways of being political and more avenues of action – and consider everything can be both political and not just so. Or rather, that moral and ethical issues are also always at stake.

The memory of my disgust in 2010 returned, as though to come in dialogue with what I suspect is a new resolve after November 8, a date that “everyone will still talk about decades from now,” which I told my mother on the phone that evening. Leading up to that day, I had a feeling that regardless of the result, there was going to be a long-term project of the future: how would the side of the election’s “victors” reach out to, for lack of a better word, the election’s “losers”? How would it work the other way around? I had hoped for a magnanimous vision, a Lincolnian appeal to the better angels of our nature, to be offered November 9th. Alas, I need not describe again how that turned out.

Consider the following not necessarily advice, or prognostication, but instead a kind reminder about that long-term project that needs to be said. The work ahead won’t require big encounters or grand gestures out of any of us, not that they aren’t genuine or necessary. The work required will require time, and our effort to see it through. And they may be small, such as running for local or state elected office, or community organizing at the municipal level, or taking part in civil society (think of a place of worship or a non-profit, or even volunteering opportunities). We all have different levels of ability, time, and place, all different pitches of the same clarion call. We must give space to any and all people, even if they may not be as thrilled to take risks. Sometimes it seems as though the changes and movement we want should be explosive, dragging everyone along for the ride. I am inclined to believe that those changes and movement happen quietly too, a front I am more drawn to. I may not be interested in elected office anymore, but I would encourage anyone who wants to go for it to go for it. And although my involvement in the great tasks won’t be so audacious as many others’, I would hope there is a place for me and others to take that clarion call too.

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