From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.

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This Isn’t It
by Samantha Bear

I commit to vote in 2018 because I want to be represented by individuals who have respect for all people and who make choices with this respect in the front of their minds. I want these representatives to be decent people and to present themselves that way. I want these representatives to have empathy and accountability. I want these representatives to see outside of their own lived experience. I want there to be more dignity, more acceptance, more thought given to the common good.

The 2016 elections made it clear that the current leadership is concerned only with money and a very specific sector of the population. And to anybody else: good luck. Everyone in this country who isn’t a straight, white, American-born male is experiencing the disappearance of whatever safe space they had left.

This November’s midterm elections will set the tone for the next couple of years of this administration by, among other things, filling offices in state governments and many open House and Senate seats. Though we are not yet electing a new president, we are choosing people who will make decisions of consequence for everyone in America. We have a chance to stack our government institutions with individuals who are committed to making morally sound decisions in the face of a morally bankrupt national leadership.

The dire need for human decency is painfully obvious to me — I feel it like a dark cloud constantly hanging over me, to the point where I’m becoming accustomed to that sinking feeling — and also very apparent in my community. Some time before the 2016 election, I started volunteering as a peer counselor at a free community health clinic focused on making space for underserved populations. While we get a variety of clients covering a range of ages, races, economic brackets, gender identities, sexual orientations, immigration statuses, and so on, we tend to see far more people who aren’t served well by conventional health services, specifically mental health services. I’m essentially a volunteer therapist, so I hear a lot about their struggles — daily, lifelong, and everywhere in between. The sense of fear and paranoia in the community at large has shot through the roof since that election, and it isn’t letting up. I’ve had a transwoman come in who experiences prejudice in traditional medical and counseling situations, who faces extreme challenges compounded by her mental health, and who has outlived many of the members of her trans family who have been brutalized merely for being themselves. We aren’t supposed to let loose with our emotions while counseling, but I couldn’t stop myself from crying in that session. This administration certainly doesn’t send a message of acceptance to her. I’ve sat with very young and very old people who depend on government assistance to live and eat. I’ve sat with undocumented individuals. I’ve sat with so many people who have lost their housing and are struggling to survive on the streets. Sometimes the chaos in these people’s lives is visible in their eyes; it’s almost like their irises are stormier than most, their pupils a deeper black. Our systems are already lacking and here we are on the verge of tearing them down further. While I love our clinic and clients, I feel a special kind of grief about the fact that the population in need of our services will balloon if we don’t take steps to change who’s in power in this country.

I won’t pretend that I face the level of adversity against which most of our clients, and many other residents of America, struggle. I don’t face the life-destroying prospect of deportation or separation from my family, I don’t face the heightened levels of racism running rampant in this country, I don’t live in constant fear of losing my housing or not being able to eat if further cuts are made to the government programs designed to facilitate life for those who aren’t as fortunate as others. But my generous slice of privilege doesn’t entirely protect me from the destruction that is already taking place and that will continue unimpeded if we don’t stand up and resist. I am a woman and a survivor of sexual assault, and watching the news is often like reliving the worst moments of my life over and over and over. I’m seeing people like me standing up for themselves and being shot down. We’re all seeing this happen. We’re watching a supposed president brag about treating women as subhumans, normalizing this behavior. I live with bipolar disorder and I need my health insurance. What if I have a breakdown and lose my job, like I did three years ago? Without Obamacare, how will I afford my medication and therapy and psychiatrist, all of which are necessary to keep me from completely losing my shit? The country is starting to feel like a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of guns, deceit, and disregard for most human lives.

Whatever the American dream is, this isn’t it.

These problems feel too big and too numerous to fight, but we have to do something. And voting in this election is one of those things. If enough of us do it, we can start chipping away at this reckless, nefarious administration and choose leaders who have respect for everyone here.

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Take action today:

If you want to support the cause by contributing to free mental health care (in addition to voting, of course), you can donate to the Berkeley Free Clinic, where I spend my time, or find and donate to your local free clinic.

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Samantha Bear lives in Oakland, CA and currently makes money as an environmental engineer, but is an aspiring writer and mental health care worker.