I think it was the feeling that welled up inside of me when I heard her words, that the confusion of my youth evolved into truth.
“That’s incredible that you’re in such an amazing place, but you need to come home to the United States, where your country can take care of you.”
In that instant, the last four years of leadership in the United States flashed through my mind. The U.S. Embassy’s words to me that day described an America that cared for its citizens and put people first, and I think I will remember them forever. Dismissing them was probably the single best decision I’ve made in my young life.
It has now been 8 months since Covid-19 closed global borders and I still live in Australia. I’ve spent the last 9 months of this unfathomable political landscape probably exactly where I should be: on a tiny, remote island across the world, that feels entirely removed from the dis-reality and strife. I didn’t go home, because 23 years of watching my country’s leaders waltz the full spectrum of sadistic greed proved that they don’t care and will never “take care” of me, and a global pandemic didn’t seem like a great starting point for these people to suddenly start doing the right thing. So today, I am not writing about America from within America, but I am there with you all — because as a young American watching this era unfold in conjunction with my generation’s future, I cannot think of a more important time in history to collectively show up, stand together, and yield the power of our votes.
We last stood collectively as a nation and yielded this power on November 8, 2016, and I believed in it tremendously as I began my second year of college in Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My classmates and I were one year deep into a way of thinking that views the health of both people and the planet as connected and one, and we contained a tremendous amount of vision and hope for the outcome of this election. We watched as our country was given two very different visions of what prosperity, human rights and environmental security look like, and on November 8, 2016, a vision that scared us won — conjoining our studies and ambitions for four years, with four years of a toxic and Ecocidal administration.
Those of us in the Environmental Sciences back in 2016 weren’t just afraid for our planet as an external entity. From early on in our education, we learned to see global challenges as rooted in one pattern of exploitation and domination that is harming us all, nature and humans alike. We’d learned that the same unjust power structures that are harming our planet are also harming ourselves, and that you can’t view things separately within shared living systems — whether it be different races, genders, religions, or species, our lives and common fates are connected and shared. The divisive, dominating, exploitative mindset of this administration endangers us all, and as we learned this in classrooms, our nation learned it in action.
Flash forward four years later, and this is the world we’ve inherited post-graduation. It’s not easy, and something friends and I have been hearing lately is this:
“Life is just hard when you’re in your twenties, it’s normal.”
… As if we’re just “at that age,” where political leadership destroys the Biosphere for centuries to come, celebrates white supremacy and incites violence and racist militias, rejects the concept of science itself and mocks global pandemics and loss of human life, and uses our suffering to acquire a maddening level of wealth that most Americans can’t even imagine, while disasters break already-broken records and wildfires in 2020 grow so intense that they’re literally creating their own weather systems. I’m listening to Presidential debates and realizing that I genuinely know more intelligent, capable, compassionate people in my everyday life than the ones who are given space on the global stage to become leaders of the so-called “Free World.” It is the year 2020 and voter suppression and intimidation is literally a majority political party’s main strategy, and a report by International Crisis Group found in evaluating election violence that the biggest risk factor is the President himself. Any one of these basic scenarios in the past could have ended entire Presidencies, and yet we’re hearing that it’s normal, and just feels difficult because we’re at a “difficult age.” If this bullshit ends when you hit 30 please, someone teleport me to that world.
But I don’t want to imagine what my generation’s lives will look like when we’re 30 if this administration gets another four years in office. Our environmental health and security has already been treated like a dispensable afterthought by most world leaders of the last several decades, and our climate-denier-in-chief leaps at opportunities to thwart environmental protections, multiply his net-worth and free polluting industry with more fury and velocity than the compounding climatic disasters themselves. There is so much to be said about what we face, but we’ve heard the science and calls to act for decades — and today I find my greatest truth in a journey that started back in March, when I rejected our leaders’ worldview and found home in a place that is everything they’ve told us is impossible and out of reach. You can’t separate yourself from your surroundings when you live on a microscopic landmass that is smaller than most towns. Experiencing life in such a place, where the local government views the health of both people and the island as an interconnected, living system, has shown me an entirely new definition of coexistence and community, where the environment and a rich life coexist completely. It has taught me a more fulfilling kind of growth, a deeper meaning of wealth, and an effortless beauty, diversity and abundance that grows naturally when we take actions that support life. It’s a vision that will never escape me and a vision that President Trump called a “pipe dream” in the most recent debate — so I suppose that means I’m living in Donald Trump’s pipe dream, where everything he’s told us we can’t achieve in America is not only real and happening, but exists as a world destination that visitors like myself never want to leave. It’s shown me what could be possible if we embraced courage and chose to act together, despite our uncertainty and fears; and the successes we could reach, if we voted out a government that puts profit over life.
Patterns of exploitation, greed, division, racism and downright abuse may have become “normalized” in 2020 but they are still far from “normal,” and this election is about so much more than political ideology or different visions of the same goals. It’s about two radically different sets of morality and what is considered acceptable, and it’s time to realize that an administration that does not care about protecting our environment or living systems, does not care about protecting you or me. The logic of domination and exploitation destroying our natural surroundings is the same logic that is dividing, exploiting, and ravaging us all, and American leaders have made it crystal clear to us that they have absolutely zero interest in environmental justice, democracy or life. We can actually see in 2020, how all of these issues interconnect, because politicians “sacrificing our futures” isn’t just an ambiguous idea anymore; it’s a reality that can now be measured in lost American lives. No single person in office will transform our world away from its present tendencies — it will be you and me, the masses, the American people mobilizing for the country we want to see. Their jobs depend on our votes, and we will not allow people who disgrace life itself to sit in office and use us to represent their own self interests. This is our country, our land, water, air and shared system, and the legacy of how we vote tomorrow will impact us all.
When I reflect on the day this administration was voted into office, I am humbled by how one day so radically transformed life in my country and the world. But this realization also gives me hope, because it shows that we, the people, have the power to change this oppressive landscape.
I can’t say that my 4 years at U.C.S.B. were ruled by failed leadership because while there was certainly failed leadership at the level of national government, the leadership of our professors, lecturers and people mobilizing for a better world gave us hope every day. They demonstrated in action that we, the people, are forcible drivers of change — and that when we unify together for a common cause, we will be successful.
I can’t think of a more important time in decades to show up together and vote. Because our vote will not only determine the United States of America for the next 4 years, it will decide the world, the Biosphere, the Earth we all share for generations to come. And while we have been delivered a form of so-called “democracy” in America where political leaders use misinformation, blatant lies, and coercion to thrust their own agenda upon us and take our power away, we can take this back and remind our leaders that they represent us, by voting. Our vote is our power, it is our chance to be heard. We have more power than we know. Our power is to vote. Please vote for us, our shared fates, our people, everything you love, and the lives ahead who will inherit the legacy of this election — because once again, we’ve been given two conflicting visions of what we want this country to look like, and I hope that come tomorrow, compassion and virtue will triumph.