Politics, Self-Expression, and Identity

If you had asked me a year ago whether I was interested in politics, I probably would have given you an answer along the lines of, “I care about causes and I vote, but I’m not involved beyond that.” I might have added “And I don’t really like talking about politics – I have my opinions but don’t enjoy sharing them.” Yet today, my interest in politics, and more importantly, my passion for certain causes are inexplicably linked to my identity, and the advocacy work that I do is one of the most important ways I express myself. After all, self-expression is all about showcasing the things that are important to you, and what better way to showcase those things than to go out and fight for them?

There wasn’t one moment over the past year during which I decided to become politically engaged. It was an amalgamation of factors. Simply being on a college campus, surrounded by students who are far more civically engaged than the typical citizen likely played a role. Living in the state that hosts the nation’s first primary whilst presidential candidates flocked to my campus undoubtedly had an influence. Getting to see one candidate in particular, who was inspiring not only in conveying a vision for the country, but who also had a broader message – namely, that we all have an obligation to advocate for what we believe in, was perhaps the most important factor. It was a call to action. For the first time, I realized that complaining about the state of our democracy gets us nowhere if we don’t accompany our complaints with actions. I also realized that our actions do have an impact. Every voter registered and door knocked has the potential to produce change. Actions, no matter how small, are powerful.

My own forays into advocacy work started with simply following politics more closely. Over the summer, after I came home from work, I would read up about the latest developments in the 2020 race. I made myself aware of the candidates, educated myself about causes that I knew little about, and grew more passionate about the issues in which I already had an interest. My investment in the candidates and the causes grew. And discussing the issues I cared so deeply about became a way for me to express myself that it never had been before. At my summer job, I secretly hoped for our daily conversations during lunch breaks to turn to politics. I would excitedly share my views on the Democratic debates with my co-workers and looked forward to hearing their views, even if they differed from my own. While I had previously been uncomfortable sharing my political views with others, I came to realize that there are ways to express my beliefs while also being respectful of those of others. In fact, differences in opinion often serve as the best way to learn and educate one another. 

Over time it came to actually volunteering, to doing the advocacy work on the ground to produce change. For me, that kind of work is a way to express the things that are important to me, while also doing work to make a real difference. And it’s simply become a part of my identity, inseparable from the rest of my being.