*Phone buzzes* Breaking News: Trump Bombs Syria to Send Message
*Phone buzzes* Breaking News: Trump Administration Ending Michelle Obama’s Girls Education Program
*Phone buzzes* Breaking News: Trump Signs Order At The EPA To Dismantle Environmental Protections
*Phone buzzes* Breaking News: Trump Administration Restricts Access to Birth Control via Title X
*Phone buzzes* Breaking News: FBI Obtained Court Order To Monitor Ex-Trump Adviser In Russia
*Phone buzzes* Breaking News: GOP Seeks to Repeal ACA
*Phone buzzes* Breaking News: Trump's New Travel Ban Blocks Migrants From Six Nations
I get more news alerts informing me about Trump’s controversial executive actions and his administration’s intentions than text messages from my own contacts. People on my social media feeds tend to respond to these news updates in the same fashion: severe backlash and outrage. Outrage that turns into memes and jokes. Jokes that turn into questions. Questions that are never answered and often fizzle out until the next controversy pops up.
When I was twelve years old, I watched as the Obamas took the country by storm. Strength, intelligence, confidence, charisma, excellence… they had it all. I would stare at the TV screen and mentally replace their faces with mine. We had the same skin color, the same stature, and the same passion for intellectualism. It was so easy to imagine a future in law, public service, or even the White House, because I would look to the TV screen and the Obamas would be there looking right back at me, serving as a tangible example that even positions that were historically “not meant for us” were actually attainable. I watched as my hometown in the greater Houston area mobilized for both parties in a way that I had never seen before. Everyone was watching the news and staying up-to-date on current events. People who had never voted before in their lives rushed to get registered. My parents followed poll ratings like Sunday night football.
Even as a seventh grader, I knew that something about the Obamas’ role in the 2008 election was special, and I hoped that, one day, I could work for them in the White House to contribute my own part to this moment in history. I saw firsthand what happens when citizens feel truly involved in the political process and view political involvement as the standard, both at the local and national level. The sheer level of collective action from both parties will forever stick with me, particularly the tremendous increase in political involvement by the black community. There was a fervor and sense of desperation to participate that ultimately yielded a historical victory and 8 years under an administration that worked tirelessly to ensure that, regardless of one’s race, gender, religion, or socioeconomic status, anyone could succeed. I saw what could happen when we felt like our voices mattered.
Fast-forward eight years later, the same girl who used to sit in front of the TV screen reciting speeches by Michelle Obama, had the opportunity to turn her childhood dream into a reality. Last fall, I had the distinct privilege to serve at the White House within the final class of Obama Administration interns. Despite working on Wall Street and for a number of leading corporations, never in my life had I been surrounded by so many industry experts and political masterminds, all working to make people’s lives better. The hours were miserable. The bureaucratic nature was frustrating. The pay was terrible (or non-existent, in my case). Yet, I could tell that people were laying it all on the line, investing their blood, sweat, and tears into policies that were geared towards making our country a better place. It was diversity and intellectualism on steroids. I miss it every single day.
Prior to my internship, it had never occurred to me when I was learning labor law or economics in a classroom at Cornell, that I could take those same principles and apply them to policies that could actually change people’s lives. Suddenly policies and movements had names of Americans associated with them. The Affordable Care Act wasn’t just a topic on Fox News, but the lifeline of a cashier in Ohio struggling to support his family on a minimum wage salary. Even as an intern, it was amazing to see my input incorporated into press releases and national campaigns; for the first time, I could see the impact of my work. I began to revel in our political process and our history as Americans. Our country: a country of immigrants, of opportunity, of sacrifice.
More important than any other lesson I took away from working in the White House: I learned that we belong here. Like you and me, all politicians were once students with a voice. Clearly, some just so happened to feel that their voices and opinions were worth sharing at an elevated level. After taking the time to reflect on my internship and the election results which unfolded right in front of me, I have decided that there is absolutely no reason why Trump should feel empowered enough to run and win presidential elections with little political experience, while we feel like our own opinions are invalid. Political and community activism are our pathways to claiming the most intimate and sacred parts of who we are and claiming power over how we are treated in this country. When we, as Americans, especially minorities, decide to stay silent on pressing issues like the elections of local and regional representatives, we stand by as those who may not have our best interests at heart go on to make critical decisions about issues like police reform and immigration. We are rendering wasted the right that generations of people have fought and died for. We are forfeiting our seat at the table.
We simply do not have the luxury to be bystanders in a system that we can influence with our participation. While we share tweets and complain about current political actions, there are people literally signing away our access to healthcare, public education, reproductive rights, and more. We should be rushing to the polls and trying to stay informed as if our lives depended on it… because they do.
I don’t know about you, but I’m claiming my seat at the table. Join me.
“Our days begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cornell University, Class of 2018
Bio: Lydia Anglin is a junior in the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, pursuing careers at the intersection of law, public policy, and financial services. Through her roles on Wall Street and at The White House, she is passionate about using her voice to enact change in minority and female communities.