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Why Wasn't I There?

CommentaryHannah DrakeComment

As I mentioned in my first post this month (Okay, Let's Do This), I want to start posting more regularly about things going on in the world. At times it can feel really scary and overwhelming and some days I'm constantly consuming news and politics. I appreciate that so many people want to get away from it, but these are also the realities of our world and we have to deal with it. So instead of turning into a political blog, I want to use this space from time to time to talk about things going on in our society, which sometimes might involve politics.

During my entire hiatus, I couldn't for the life of me think of what I might post about today as I sat down to plan my posts for the month. And then it occurred to me there might be a reason for that: I've been on the sidelines for about a year and a half due to what I now recognise is anxiety. Let me explain.

On 20 January 2017, the first Women's March was held in DC, across the country and across the globe. The closest march was in Denver and even though when rumours first started surfacing, I spoke with some co-workers about going, I didn't. I didn't leave my room that morning, but I did donate to Planned Parenthood from the comfort of my own bed. My friend Taylor did go however and at work on Monday, she described what an incredible experience it had been. I was so jealous that she was a part of history, that she would be able to tell her kids about being a part of it one day. I vowed that I wouldn't miss that opportunity again.

But then there was the Climate Change March and the Tax March and the First Anniversary of the Women's March and then the March of Our Lives. I missed every single one of them, even though every single one of them was about something that's important to me.

Now I realise that sitting them out is a result of anxiety I didn't recognise before. I was terrified that people would use marches for causes that I believe in to attack peaceful protesters and incite fear and chaos. As far as I know, that hasn't happened at any of these protests, and yet I continue to choose to hang out at home, on the sidelines, with my anxiety.

I'm not really sure where to go from here, but I hope that I can overcome that fear and that anxiety to participate in something meaningful in the future. I always come back to a question from David Letterman's interview of President Obama on his new Netflix series. It was something like this: What will I tell my children I did to fight injustice in the world? Why wasn't I there?

I need to come up with an awfully better answer than hiding in my house, avoiding the crowds and afraid of what might happen.

If you're out there peacefully fighting for what you believe in, I appreciate what you're doing and the courage it takes to do that. If you, like me, struggle to take the steps to getting there due to anxiety, it's okay. There are other ways to participate and other ways to make your voice heard. Maybe one day you'll be able to show up at a march, maybe you'll only be able to show up in another way. The important piece is fighting for what you believe in with the tools you have.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." - Martin Luther King Jr.

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Pray...Then Act

CommentaryHannah DrakeComment

There is so much information pouring in about the Las Vegas shooting. I'm having a really difficult time processing, sifting through everything, or making sense of any of it. I think we all are. 

Yesterday I walked to the grocery store to meet Luke after he finished work. I listened to the NPR Politics Podcast that covered the shooting while I was walking over. When we got in the car after we had purchased the groceries for the rest of the week, the first thing I said to him was, "Luke, I'm really angry." That's the overwhelming emotion I feel after hearing news of yet another mass shooting on US soil, the biggest one in modern history, coming just over a year after the previous biggest one in modern history.

I'm heartbroken that more people lost their lives to gun violence like this. I'm terrified that there isn't anywhere safe left in this world. It doesn't matter if you're at school--whether that be elementary school to college--it doesn't matter if you're out at a club, at a concert, at the cinema, you could lose your life in an instant.

I believe in God and I believe in the power of prayer. I know the victims, the families, the communities need prayer and support and comfort. But that isn't enough.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who speaks on behalf of the White House in her roll as Press Secretary, said “there will certainly be a time for that policy discussion to take place, but that’s not the place that we’re in at this moment.” This sentiment was echoed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell--among others, who said, "I think it’s particularly inappropriate to politicize an event like this, it just happened in the last day-and-a-half. It’s entirely premature to be discussing legislative solutions, if any."

What is the right time then? Because it's too late for the victims of Columbine. It's too late for the victims of Virginia Tech. It's too late for the victims of Aurora It's too late for the victims of Sandy Hook. It's too late for the victims of Orlando It's too late for the victims of the 521 mass shootings that took place in the 477 days between Orlando and Las Vegas. And it's too late for the victims of Las Vegas. It's too late for those men, women, and children who died in a matter of seconds when a man fired a semi-automatic or automatic weapon at their school or workplace or during their night out, a place they thought they were safe. A mother who lost her daughter at Sandy Hook tweeted yesterday, "There is no such thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time when a 6 year old gets shot."

We're the only country in the world who has this problem. And the response from Congress is always the same: Let's not talk about it today. Guns aren't the problem. Laws won't fix anything.

In the aftermath, everyone is so quick to point fingers and find someone to blame, but heaven forbid anyone point to guns as the problem. Guns are the problem. There is no reason a human being needs a semi-automatic or an automatic rifle. That gun exists for the sole purpose of taking human lives en masse. As someone who isn't a gun owner, I respect the right to own a gun, but there has to be stricter regulations in the gun industry. It is not a slippery slope to knocking down your door and taking away all of your guns. That's not the solution most Americans are looking for by any stretch of the imagination. But it's cowardly and senseless to say there is no middle ground. That nothing can be done.

When I was looking for information about the shooting this morning, I scrolled passed an article titled "These Tips Could Improve Your Chances of Surviving a Mass Shooting". HOW IS THIS THE WORLD WE'VE BUILT FOR OURSELVES?! Why do we have to live in fear of being the next victim? Why do we have to map out our escape route and make an emergency plan everywhere we go? Why do we continue to accept politicians who say that we need to protect ourselves and make our own change instead of them doing something because their hands are tied? “People are going to have to take steps in their own lives to take precautions to protect themselves," said Senator John Thune of South Dakota. “Sadly, violence will always be part of our lives,” said Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Why have we accepted this as our reality?

Did you know that earlier this year "Republicans rescinded an Obama administration regulation that had made it tougher for the mentally ill to get a gun. They claimed the rule, put into place after the 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, unfairly impeded the Second Amendment rights of people with disabilities." (Huffington Post) Did you know that this week in Congress, there has been talk of voting to make silencers easier to buy? "Supporters say the bill is about protecting recreational gun users from hearing loss." (Time)

Did you know that every member of Congress who has received campaign money from the NRA tweeted their "thoughts and prayers" for the victims of Las Vegas? (Splinter News) I'll say it again. Yes, those who have been impacted by this and other tragedies like this need our prayers. But they need more. "To my colleagues: your cowardice to act cannot be whitewashed by thoughts and prayers. None of this ends unless we do something to stop it." - Chris Murphy, US Senator, Connecticut (Find out here if your Congressperson has taken money from the NRA. My Representative, Ken Buck, has taken $7,950 and one of my Senators, Cory Gardner, has taken $5,950.)

The second thing I said to Luke when we got in the car is, "I feel so helpless." Being abroad, I can't call my representatives. Though, I told Luke I can tweet them and he said that may be the most powerful form of communication in American Politics today. But truly, I don't know what I can do from the other side of the world. I just know I want to do something. I want my voice heard by those who have been elected to represent me. If they continue to stand idly by pretending their hands are tied because they have chained themselves to the NRA, I'll work hard to elect someone else in 2018 and 2020 who will actually do something about this problem.

Americans are stuck in this cycle. There's a mass shooting. Everyone starts talking about gun control, where we go from here, what can or cannot be done. A few days go by and people move on. Sure enough, after some time, there's another mass shooting making headlines and we're back to offering our thoughts and prayers for a few days until we forget about it again. We have to work together to break that cycle. We have to come together as Americans--as human beings--to make a change. It's not a Republican/Democrat issue, it's a human issue. And it's not too soon to be talking about legislative action. It's too late for those who have already lost their lives or continue to live with the horror of the mass shooting they survived. It's not politicizing a national tragedy. It's accepting the reality that real change needs to start in DC.

Now is the time to talk about it before we all become victims in some way or another. Now is the time to make change before our names become a part of this ongoing tragedy.

I'm 27 years old. I remember the day of the Columbine shooting. I was 8 years old and lived about an hour away. I remember sitting in the kitchen and watching the memorial services for the victims, not fully able to comprehend what happened. I remember the day of the Virginia Tech shooting. I was 16 years old, a junior in high school and we were talking about it during passing period. I remember the day of the Aurora shooting. I was 21 at the time and lived an hour away, suddenly terrified to see the final chapter in the Dark Knight trilogy. I remember hearing stories of people I knew who were at that theater or supposed to be. People I knew! I remember a few months later when I heard about Sandy Hook. It had only been 5 months since Aurora. I was at a work conference in Denver and couldn't focus on anything after I saw the news. I have never been more sick to my stomach in my life and I will never forget that feeling. Honestly, by the time Orlando happened last year, I felt so desensitized to the news of more gun violence. It was just as awful as the others and actually Orlando was the first place where I ever went to a club, back in 2010. But I just didn't have the mental capacity to process it anymore. I'm only 27 years old and I have too many memories of hearing about horrible mass shootings, two of which took place far too close to home.

I'm done being desensitized. When we're desensitized, we do nothing. We buy into the lie that nothing can be done and we have to accept this new reality for the rest of our lives. Yes, now is the time to pray, but now is the time to act.

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The Real Reason I Moved to England

CommentaryHannah Drake1 Comment

It's after midnight on Thursday as I'm writing this, which technically makes it Friday. I can't sleep. My mind is swirling with thoughts after hearing of the attack today in Barcelona and allowing curiosity to get the best of me as I scrolled through the KKK's Wikipedia page, reading of their horrific history. I feel like it's time to be more frank about something. Something that I get asked a lot.

Let me make it quite clear. Luke and I chose to live in England because of the 2016 US Presidential Election. Early in the morning on Wednesday, 9 November, I woke from a dream of Michelle Obama crying with me, comforting me. Before it was even 5:00AM in Colorado, we decided I would be the one to move, ending the long distance chapter of our relationship.

I used to hesitate to tell people that, not knowing where they would fall on the political spectrum, not knowing if I was inviting an argument or an expression of jealousy that I had a ticket out of the US--or anything in between. In 2008, in 2012, I heard people say that they would move to Canada if McCain or Romney won the election. Heck, my dad was one of them. I don't want to be the butt of a joke, someone who jumped shipped on their country because of an election. But make no mistake, Trump's America is vastly different than an America helmed by the Republicans of 2008 or 2012. I didn't feel that America would be on a path I wanted to be on under this presidency and I took my opportunity to distance myself from it.

Two days after the election, I posted this on my Instagram page:

My heart breaks for those who have reacted to the election results by burning the American flag or have stated the new President Elect is "not my president". Because here's the thing, I'm an American and on January 20, Mr. Trump will be my president. Because of this reality, I want to do everything in my power to show my fellow Americans and the rest of the world that as my president, he does not represent my values. Only I can hold myself accountable for my actions so I will work to bring more love into this world instead.

There are a lot of policies the Republicans and Donald Trump pushed during the election that I didn't agree with. There still are. There were in 2008 and 2012 as well. But John McCain and Mitt Romney were different. They were respectable, honorable men. They didn't give a voice and a platform to white supremacy, nationalism, hate groups, and neo-Nazis the way Trump does. The idea of them sitting in the Oval Office never made me consider actively, daily showing my fellow humans that their morals, values, or beliefs, what they said--or didn't say--represented me as an American or as a person.

It's weird being here and watching what's happening from thousands of miles away. I now live in the second largest city in the United Kingdom. Steven Emerson claimed on Fox News in January that Birmingham is 100% Muslim and non-Muslims wouldn't dare enter into the city. It's actually 21.8% Muslim. (In comparison, the Muslim population is 0.14% in Boulder, Colorado.) I see Muslims every single day. I pass them in the city center. When I sit in my front room, I can see women in beautiful hijabs push their children in prams down my street. More than once, I've walked by a table outside the Bull Ring set up to bring awareness that ISIS does not represent Muslims. One day last month I was on the subway in London. A group of Muslim women headed to Heathrow got on and one woman thought she rolled over my foot with her suitcase, so she apologized profusely. (By the way, she spoke perfect English in a perfect English accent and she didn't roll over my foot.) A few moments later, I told her the plastic thing from her tag was still on her shirt. She thanked me and we smiled at each other. It made me think what it's like to be her, to be of her faith. 

Before I moved to England, there seemed to be a spike in violence and terrorist attacks in England and Europe. Trump used attacks in London and Manchester to push his Muslim ban (speaking before knowing all of the facts). Yes, England has its own set of problems right now. We can't ignore Brexit or the reality that the break from the European Union was born from nationalism to keep refugees from pouring into the country. But sometimes I feel like people here pity me for my citizenship. People ask me about Trump without even considering that I might be a supporter. It just seems like the notion of putting someone like that in power is almost unimaginable here, after everything Europe has been through. I certainly feel more comfortable telling people Trump was the final straw in our decision on where to live.

I used to see things about the violence during the civil rights movement, about fascism, about the treat of nuclear war and think, "Can you even imagine?" Look around. You don't have to imagine what it was like for those people anymore. We're living it. We have the history readily available, but we don't have a leader who is willing to stand up and condemn that kind of hatred and violence. It's shameful. It feels like there's something new, something horrific, something shocking every day coming out of the States. We're living in seriously frightening times. We're on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea and the two men holding the buttons seem to have the most fragile egos in the world. The KKK are marching alongside Nazis in the streets of America, calling the Trump courageous, honorable, honest for not condemning their actions. 

I don't even know what to say or what to think. In trying to write this, I can't even find a specific topic to land on between Muslims, Charlottesville, or North Korea. The common thread seems to be Trump and his irrational, unscripted outbursts. It's really scary. And I'm really angry.

I didn't move to England to abandon my country and watch it burn from across an ocean. I moved here because I felt that I had an opportunity for a better life. I can't control what happens here or there. I can only control me. I can only use my voice to condemn hatred and violence. I can only use my actions to bring love and light into the world.

The day after the election was hard. I decided to move to a new country. I was sick to my stomach. I cried with a co-worker. I was in disbelief and I was scared. When I finally thought I could stomach some food, I drove to Chick-Fil-A around 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon. I got my usual order at the drive thru and decided to pay for the woman in the vehicle behind me. It made me feel better. It made me feel hopeful. I don't know how her day was looking, but mine was shit and then suddenly it wasn't. Out of that encounter, I decided to actively do something kind for someone every single day. I set my goal for something measurable: 1,534 days, 1,534 acts of kindness. It's been 282 days, January 20, 2021 is still 1,252 days away. Some days I'm not a great person, some days I struggle to be kind to anyone, including myself. I can't always give time or money. But I'm trying and I know it's changed me for the better.

Being in a new country has expanded my horizons and birthed new experiences. Since the beginning of this year, I've also been to four other countries. What I've seen is that we're all the same, no matter where we are or where we're from. We're all just humans and we all just have to take care of each other.

My post-election Instagram posted ended with:

If there's one coherent feeling I can actually make sense of this week, it's that I'm out of excuses for choosing not to love and serve. It's more important now than ever, in my opinion. I would urge you who are unhappy with the results to get involved in your communities where you can. Vote in the mid-term elections in 2018. Accept Mr. Trump as your president, but reject the notion that love does not trump hate. Make no mistake, electoral college elected Mr. Trump, but the American people elected Secretary Clinton. Let that be a sliver of hope to you that the majority of Americans did not buy into the racism, sexism, bigotry, and xenophobia. Remember the words of First Lady Obama: "When they go low, we go high." Smile at a stranger. Meet your neighbor. Teach your children to be accepting of everyone. Commit a random act of kindness. Trust in God. [Matthew 22:37-39]

(Yes, I am still an American citizen. Yes, I can still vote in American elections.)

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