“I’m voting for Dukakis,” Maggie Gyllenhaal's character utters from the 80s-set Donnie Darko’s dining table; sparking familiar insults, vulgarities and light misogyny at the dinner table about her preference for Democrat Mike Dukakis over the eventual winner, H.W. Bush. It’s an amusing scene, ending in light shrugs from her parents as if to say “she’s 18 now, we can’t tell her who to vote for or how to live her life”. In life, however, the scene seldom ends so eloquently or funny, and relinquishing political freedom to your family is easier in indie horror movies than the horror felt like a conservative of discovering that your child religiously watches Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s, Instagram Story.
In the midst of the longest government shutdown in modern US history, we are all at the very least approaching the end of our rope. Swirling debates over immigration, both legal and illegal, has erupted into a stand-off essentially between newly-elected Democrats and the whims of President Trump. Every day for at least the past year, we've grown increasingly attuned to the type of news we’ll receive in politics, and for an increasing number of young people, those millennials and Gen Z’ers’ tolerance has gotten lower and lower as the news gets more downright mortifying. Through social media, new media, and some good ol’ fashioned education, young people have made it clear that they understand these issues left and right. Though, for many of their families -- many of our families -- the conversation goes south quickly.
I’m not alone, and neither are you. There have been countless fights between me and my conservative environment and upbringing. I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, two hours from the border. My first few protests were in Tucson, where we protested HB-1070, the bill that would’ve allowed any police officer to question anyone’s immigration status at any time. Then there were Mexican cultural studies courses in my high school that was threatening to defund them if there wasn’t a certain percentage of white people in the classroom giving ‘the other side.’ Not to mention the massacre in a grocery store parking lot that left Democrat former Rep. Gabby Giffords surviving being shot through the brain. Westboro Baptist Church showed up to our high school soon after that. Politics and xenophobia have been a defining part of my story as an American. Nevertheless, I’m downright amazed that my grandmother, a widowed Mexican immigrant mother of 3 US-born children, living a single stoplight from the US-Mexico border, voted for Trump and thought nothing of it.
Whether it’s Facebook, dinner time, or awkward calls where the phone is passed like a baton from family member to family member, your family is a presence in your life. They’re going to continue to be forever unless you choose otherwise. Yeah, you can cut them out, choose your own family, and maybe that’s ultimately healthier for you, but there are ways to keep the line of communication open. While blocking is a viable solution to people you no longer want access to your life, it can just as quickly leave people hurt and confused, people who helped you when you were hurt and confused too. Politics, especially policy on how we treat people who are different from us, is essential to talk about. We should talk about it, and get on the same page as a nation. Even though, well, you know, we kinda settled that discussion with that whole World War II thing. Regardless, we’re here. It’s now. How do we keep going?
Your parents, your family, are in all likelihood, not idiots. They believe what they believe via the sum of all of their life’s experiences and perspectives. That includes their upbringing, education, religion, and everything else. Younger people perhaps have had free time online to gain a certain digital empathy for situations alien to others. We’ve developed longtime worldwide friendships online, while some families and older people in first-world countries like the USA are still developing their digital literacy skills, which is always a huge problem and a cause of the spread of misinformation and fake news.
Moving forward, consider your abilities and energy when moving forward with your family. Even if you think you’re at the end of your wits with them, people are capable of surprises, and of changes of heart. If you need to take a break from your family, or if your social media feed is full of conservative memes or quasi-professional ‘news articles’, by all means, get that out of your face. Ironically, social media is not the forum to change the hearts and minds of the people closest to you. Control your feed all you’d like. Only take calls when you want to.
But this fight extends beyond your family or mine, it’s a way of thinking and American life itself that’s at stake, and even if your family can’t or won’t join you in this fight for liberty and justice for all, then hit the streets. Become a canvasser and engage in political discussions with total strangers in your local area, and in effect become a better debater and communicator in the process. Love Wins, but to win love also must fight.