Is there still room for hope?

A look into the future

By Michelle Austreich

I have been thinking a lot about the concept of hope and what kind of role it plays in our current political landscape. What does hope even mean? Should that be how we gauge our future prospects? To me, "hoping" seems a rather passive way to achieve a better tomorrow. I do not think that it should be the catalyst for political action, especially in times when the supply of it is lacking. On the other hand, the beauty of hope is that it has no bounds, and nothing truly limits you from hoping for the best possible outcome in any scenario. While we should not rely on it to spur change, we can utilize it as a tool in the pursuit and desire for something better. This is why the rhetoric of hope will never truly disappear, because when policy and lawmakers fail us, at least the dream that justice is possible in our society lives on. It is important to remember that when faced with headlines that crush us and make us feel like all of this effort is worth nothing.

With the attempt to keep up with the news cycle that seems to update by the second, I have to remind myself these days that my emotions and fears do not exist as facts, and therefore I should not allow them to control me. It is easier said than done to manage anxiety about politics, especially when others often tell us to "just turn it off" and "focus on more important things.” The human brain is wired to focus on negative bias, meaning we keep coming back to the news even if we know that it is harmful for us. The media capitalizes on and sensationalizes the pessimism and fear that no one is immune to; thus begins the vicious cycle. I find it impossible to detach myself from political narratives because they impact my life, whether directly or not. If it does not impact me, it affects someone that I know, and that is more than enough reason to continue fighting, day in and day out, for a more equal world that is truly inclusive and does not just make empty claims to be so.

There is a clear lack of empathy in politics. The reinforcement and reminder of a "common enemy" keep parties focused and united in their own twisted way, which is the essence of why politics are so messed up. The worst part is that this is not new. Maybe that is why it is so disappointing and yet unsurprising; it cannot be explained away by one horrible politician or rule; it is the foundation upon which we attempt to coexist. It is strange these days when you attempt to have a bipartisan conversation, as it quickly dissolves into "You have your facts, and I have mine" or "Let's agree to disagree.” I beg to differ. Human lives are not up for debate. Access to birth control or clean air is not up for debate. The right to exist as who you are should not just be a talking point. The fact that the playing ground in America is uneven and always has been is not an opinion. It is a fact that some just choose to sidestep while they profit by stepping on the backs of others.

The pandemic especially has exacerbated and capitalized on people's anxieties and feelings of powerlessness, and this takes center stage when tactics of fear-mongering are applied in order to get people to listen. Spreading exaggerated claims and spinning neatly-wrapped lies has become almost a prerequisite for holding a position of power. The rhetoric that seems insane to you is actually normal to someone in the market to blame others for their own misfortunes. Politicians know this and use it to sway people into a certain direction, as we have been witness to a new type of conspiracy theory that exists on a spectrum, and is not just an outlandish claim about aliens circling in space. The individuals that we should look to for guidance are tapping into how people feel and connecting those emotions to something else, anything else to make their talking points leap off of the page as dire and paint a picture of a society in shambles. Feuds between local and state officials are a microcosm of the divide that now defines America as a whole, and adhering to party lines has triumphed over declaring that people's lives might maybe be more important.

We can all agree that as a country we are quite divided, that's great, anything else? Where do we go from here? I cannot tell you to be hopeful when we now vote against someone instead of for someone. It is nearly impossible to imagine that a candidate truly worth fighting for can exist, but we have to keep going in order for that day to come. We can agree on one thing for sure: the fact that there is a need to be skeptical of everything. A different sort of realism has emerged that no longer tries to gloss over issues as things that will eventually just resolve themselves, but instead, issues that need our time and attention right now. The new hope is that this moment shifts into a lasting movement, where we hold the people that claim to represent us accountable, and we address the long-standing inequalities that many have denounced as "That's just how it is.” You cannot expect the world to be a fair and just place by choice, and the people in power need to lead by example and put their money where their mouth is. We also cannot rely on politicians and leaders to actually be the change: that is our job now.

It is crucial not to exist in an echo chamber. You cannot just focus your anger and conversations on the people that already agree with you. Sure, you can agree to disagree, and sometimes you are forced to. The line has to be drawn when it crosses the boundary of something that mentally or emotionally is something that you cannot handle, and it does not take away from your efforts if you need to take a step back. Talking about change and focusing your efforts on trying to convert the people in your life that disagree with you can sadly just be doing more harm than good, especially for you. It is additionally important to zoom out and focus on the macro perspective, and not spend all of your energy arguing with everyone who disagrees. Thanks to the internet, we can seek solace from those who hold the same opinions, and it is easy to find something that will reassure you that things will be okay. The point is, you are not alone in your desire for something better, and change that has been promised for many decades has yet to be tangibly delivered. You, as an individual, are more powerful than you realize, and it is time to come to the conclusion that institutions will not save us, we will.

Maybe then it is not hope that I have, but just plain sturdy optimism. At least I try to force myself to look at the world through rose-colored glasses sometimes, as a reminder that good is still out there. I am oftentimes inspired by the people my age around me, and I respect how outspoken, creative, and unwilling to settle for the status quo they are. My peers push me to think outside of my own bubble, and that is why I think we are not completely doomed. Although we have often been called an emotionally fragile generation, I think that actually is representative of our refusal to accept the privatization of morality. I get that thinking about the future is discouraging and downright terrifying, but that is why we all have to take things into our own hands and vote. It is definitely not the only thing that we can do, that is for sure, but using your voice to elect individuals that actually represent your interests (not just on the federal level) is a very important step in the right direction. Thinking pragmatically and being aware of what is going on is what gives us the potential to change the structure of politics, which is long overdue. Technology is the new frontier to mobilize for change, and we have it on lock. Maybe sometime soon we will have nominees for president that are under the age of forty-five, or is that too radical? Maybe we will eliminate the two-party system entirely! The world is our oyster, but change can only happen when we take a conscious step toward awareness and remove ourselves from the safety and convenience of our ignorance. The world may underestimate our impact, but I surely do not.