Sidelines Are Not An Option

I still remember my first time at the polls. I had just celebrated my eighteenth birthday and November already felt like winter in the mountains of Colorado.

When it was my turn to approach the voting booth, I felt nervous. Outside of the presidential nominees, I didn’t know who any of the candidates were. I checked all of the boxes with the small letter that indicated a person was in my party—or rather, my parents’ party. I voted the way they voted because that was all I knew. 

In my experience, [political discussions] only ever brought division and debate. It was better to keep quiet, to foster peace.

Fast forward four years, to the 2012 election. It was warmer that November as the sun poured through the oak trees on my college campus. I was walking to class when a boy with a clipboard stopped me. He was campaigning for the upcoming election and wanted to ask me a few questions. “I already know who I’m voting for,” I said without looking up. And I did. I was voting for the candidate my parents were voting for without knowing much about said candidate—again.

The presidential election was the only time I ever thought about politics. And even then, I only showed up to check the boxes. When classmates tried to have conversations about the election, or a polling person showed up at my dorm, I told them I didn’t “believe” in political discussions because I thought those conversations only ever brought division and debate. I believed it was better to keep quiet and foster peace.

I’ve since learned apathy about politics is a glaring sign of privilege. Those of us who choose not to care or get involved can only do so because election results don’t affect us. My ethnicity, my education, and my socioeconomic status have allowed me certain rights and opportunities—rights and opportunities that are not often challenged by elected officials.

Apathy about politics is a sign of privilege.

I know others have removed themselves from politics for one reason or another. Maybe you grew up like me and politics has always been an after-thought—not because you don’t care about people, but because you’ve never been directly affected by a policy or seen negative repercussions firsthand. Or maybe you want to get involved, but taking the first step feels overwhelming. It can be scary to ask questions, and so we compartmentalize and look the other way.

With privilege comes responsibility—responsibility to inform ourselves, to recognize inequality, and to speak against it.

I hear you. I’ve been there and I get it. You are not alone in your feelings. But it’s essential we recognize that getting to have those feelings and choosing to look the other way is a privilege. Neutral politics can no longer be an option. Here’s why:

There are politicians who are working against equality and inclusion in our country, and there are policies in place that are harming the environment and eradicating natural resources. It’s essential we learn, develop opinions, and vote—especially if we have privilege. Not being impacted by the results of elections only ups the stakes. With privilege comes responsibility—the responsibility to inform ourselves, to recognize inequality, and to speak against it.

Sidelines are not an option. As someone who used to believe she was keeping the peace by remaining silent, I now realize I was only perpetuating and hiding behind my privilege.

As someone who used to believe she was keeping the peace by remaining silent, I now realize I was only perpetuating and hiding behind my privilege.

On a practical level, there are many ways to stay informed and involved. In addition to voting on election day, here are a few ways you can advocate:

Stay Informed 

First and foremost, stay informed about current affairs in the country. Start by learning about what’s happening in the White House and with federal policies. Politico is excellent for nonpartisan political news. You can also check out this list of our most trusted sources for environmental news. Follow these climate activists and decolonize your bookshelf. If you prefer to get news in your inbox, subscribe to our favorite daily newsletters

Learn About Your Local Government

It’s also essential to stay updated on a state and city level because policies can vary depending on where you live in the country. Find out the names of your elected officials here, and make it a goal to attend at least one town hall meeting in the coming months. (Check out this activism guide for tips on attending your first meeting.) These events are also a great place to meet your local officials. Network with and learn from political activists in your area.

And remember: politics are always happening, even outside of primary elections. Our local officials need to hear from us year-round, on policies big and small. To learn more about communicating with your local representatives, check out this guide.

Support and Fundraise for Your Party’s Candidates

I find my energy is much better spent on the ground and investing in practical support.

The presidential election is just around the corner. You can help the candidate you support by joining a campaigning party, as well as through fundraising. This is especially important for candidates refusing to take money from billionaires and corporate PACs (Political Action Committees).

Learn more about how political donations work.


Kayti Christian (she/her) is a Senior Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for sensitive people.