This image has popped up on my Facebook feed several times in the past few days. The sentiment behind it comes up even more often.
People are tired of politics. They’re tired of debate, and of news, and of serious matters. They want to know: Why can’t social media go back to being full of cat videos and recipes and baby pictures like it used to be?
And there’s a part of me that is right there with them, thinking how much nicer it was when logging on to Facebook or scrolling through Twitter was a stress-free experience. In my weaker moments, I wonder… If I just unfriended each and every member of the incredible new tribe that has emerged over the past few months as a source of friendship, commiseration, and support, could it go back to the way it was?
I think it could. But willful ignorance has never been my style.
Look, I understand the desire to escape. The things going on right now in our country are scary. Why confront them if you don’t have to, if you exist as a member of one of the privileged groups that doesn’t have to worry about your place in this warped new vision of America? Why not take a break from it all, let the politicians worry about politics until the next time we are tasked with choosing our nation’s leaders?
Regardless of how you voted in November, you didn’t expect to still be talking politics in February. And you’re just done. You’re ready to tune it all out and let life go on in its comfortable routines as though nothing has changed.
But don’t expect me to help you do it.
I cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening to my country. Willful ignorance and lack of civic engagement led us to this point, where rights are taken for granted rather than defended and hard truths are buried rather than overcome. Where we surrender control of our nation to a screaming minority on the fringe, not out of agreement but out of disinterest. My generation’s political apathy is legendary, and shameful. It is not something to embrace or seek comfort in.
I cannot deafen myself to the fears of friends, new and old, who have so much more to lose than I do. When we do not hear one another, we fray the bonds that connect us to one another as members of a common society. There can be no compassion, no empathy, no understanding, and no compromise that does not start with the radical act of simply listening.
I cannot go back to being silent, to heeding the destructive maxim that religious and politics are not subjects fit for general conversation. Our polite restraint is a powerful weapon in the hands of those who would have us believe that on the other side of the partisan divide lies a destructive “other” who is less caring, less hard-working, less genuinely American than we are. Only by speaking out can we know that we don’t have to agree to be friends, to love one another, and to love the country we share.
I cannot do any of these things.
Too many of us have done them for far too long, and that has led us into the murky darkness of anger and fear and division. Only by seeing the uncomfortable truths, holding our leaders to account for the things they do, and broaching the difficult conversations with one another can we begin to heal the rift.
It won’t be easy. It won’t be comfortable. It won’t be fun. But it needs to be done.
Our democracy is too important to turn away now.
So you can keep your hashtag and your notebook doodle.
I will not be helping to make Facebook fun again.