Midterm elections are under 50 days away. The one thing political leaders across the spectrum can agree on is how monumental this election season is. We’ve known from the get-go that President Donald Trump’s political rise has spelled out the requiem of politics as usual in America. But for me, it took a summer in Washington, D.C., the epicenter of political activism, to recognize the colossal stakes of the midterms. This summer, I also worked to overcome years of internalized misogyny and understand the potential I have to impact my surroundings as an individual.
I left my comfort zone as a native Californian this summer, and trekked to the East Coast for the first time in my life to do field and communications work for NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading reproductive rights group. What followed was life-changing. Prior to this internship, I had worked for feminist nonprofits and political action groups, including an incredibly fulfilling and educational internship with the National Network of Abortion Funds. That’s because since I was a teenager, my personal experiences with sexual harassment and barriers to reproductive health care turned me into an ardent feminist and advocate. From early on, I’ve scrambled to educate myself and do everything I can to support other girls and women.
Before this summer, I viewed my writing as a service to give back to feminism and believed that was enough — until I realized it wasn’t. It wasn’t enough. Not in a world where babies and young children with disabilities are being senselessly ripped from their parents’ arms, screaming and crying, and put into cages. Not in a world where children and women fleeing rape and domestic abuse in their home countries are being turned away at U.S. borders. And certainly not in a world where, suddenly, we are one Supreme Court justice away from thousands of American women dying due to of unsafe abortions. And when tragedy strikes at the heart of what most matters to you, words suddenly lose all meaning, all that’s left is action.
When I sought help from my local women’s health clinic, its staff didn’t support me with an eloquent think piece of impassioned words and sentiments. These people supported me through actions and with compassion, empowering me to become the person I am today. As I considered what the likely loss of Roe v. Wade’s protections would mean for me and other American women, it was my experiences with the infinitely resilient staff of reproductive health clinics that kept coming to my mind.
The people I worked with never stayed down for long. We were constantly organizing: collaborating with the offices of senators and Congress members and other leading advocacy groups to stage rallies and speaking events; protesting on the Hill, in front of the Supreme Court Building and outside the White House; leading phone banks and postcard writing sessions; launching mass social media campaigns; engaging in voter registration and education efforts. In taking action and learning crucial organization skills, I shed my hopelessness — in the country and in myself — and traded it for determination.
America, it’s easy to question how you personally can make a difference in a country fractured by voter suppression, mass incarceration and unrelenting ignorance and bigotry — all the more so as a young woman. If my years of writing about feminism and other issues related to women’s rights on the internet have taught me anything, it’s how easy it is to be convinced nothing you believe matters, when everything you say either is dismissed or invites harassment.
No matter what I write, what I hear back is always the same: No amount of facts or stats is ever going to convince internet commenters that abortion and birth control are about health, not irresponsible, promiscuous women. And I never realized, until this summer, just how much my voice as a young woman was silenced. It wasn’t until my summer of organizing, rallying, solidarity and mentorship that I found hope and self-confidence I’d never had before. It wasn’t until watching a mass movement of resistance grow out of activist work I’d contributed to, or until calling my representatives every day and watching them release statements and pledges affirming my views, that I realized the power in my hands as one single woman.
That’s not to say I won’t be writing anymore — if anything, I’ll be writing more, as I have by finishing my first book this summer. But it also means I’ll be organizing and rallying, too. And certainly, I’ll be at the polls in November.
Kylie Cheung is a junior majoring in political science. She is also the blogs editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “You Do Uterus,” runs every other Wednesday.