Ask Jenny Bruso
April 15, 2020
By Jenny Bruso | @jennybruso
From the creator of Unlikely Hikers, an online community for the underrepresented outdoorsperson.
Dear Jenny Bruso,
Surviving another election year feels impossible. I’ve never felt this hopeless about our current political climate and all it could mean for the future of everything: people, land, the environment, the entire world. In 2016, when it became clear to me and more than half of the rest of the country that Trump’s candidacy wasn’t some ridiculous joke, I began speaking out to whoever would listen about what this could mean for all of us. It was also the same year I attempted my first hike of the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). As a cis, straight, white-passing, upper-middle-class woman, I started my hike feeling few concerns about my ability to undertake this adventure, but I actually got off the trail after 900+ miles because of the number of conservative a-holes I encountered who made me feel unsafe.
I know I’m supposed to respect the democratic process. I know I’m supposed to respect everyone’s beliefs, but I can barely speak to my dad, Abuelo, and other men in my family who voted for Trump, especially because I know they are going to again. I know my family drama doesn’t compare to the shrinking of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante, or the rise of white supremacists—all massive concerns of mine—but my mental health is tanking and my ability to speak out for the lands and people I love is draining. I’m not someone who stays silent and complicit, but my own survival feels like it’s running out.
And here we are, on the crest of possibly four more years of this. How? HOW are we going to get through this? I feel so insecure about how dramatic this sounds, please set me right if I’m missing the point.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I want you to know you aren’t being dramatic. That’s internalized misogyny talking and it’s exactly how conservatives want you to feel: confused, guilty, and dramatic. There are so many people who act like speaking out on these issues add to the divide in our political climate. It tricks us into thinking we are wrong to have bad feelings about other people’s beliefs and that is a crock.
Want to know what’s divisive? Misogyny, racism, transphobia, ableism, fatphobia, capitalism, exploiting our planet for resources––I could go on. Not having bad feelings about these things is the real problem and it’s toxic and creepy AF that people pretend otherwise. Disagreeing with someone’s political beliefs when they are rooted in oppression is necessary. Respectability be damned.
As you said, to be silent is to be complicit. We all have a responsibility to talk to our loved ones about the election and what our vote means. I commend you for speaking out about your beliefs to the men in your family, but don’t let changing them be your goal. I’m not saying stop, but you can’t change them.
You can’t keep up the fight when you’re a shell of yourself and you are so needed in this. Here are some things that may help:
- It’s normal to feel like you aren’t doing enough and it’s impossible to do everything. Figure out what works for you in consideration of your big, multifaceted life. We all have so much going on in this living thing. Too much compromise, letting go of responsibilities, and not enough rest leads to burnout.
- Create boundaries for how you consume your news. Don’t read it all day, every day. Set aside specific times. Morning is probably not the best if your entire day may be sidetracked.
- You didn’t mention social media, but I imagine it’s a key player. It is for me and everyone I know. If you can resist, don’t rush to social media to express anguish over something as soon as you hear about it. Personally, I think “fuck Trump” posts and the like are totally appropriate, but they may also be seen as inflammatory, which means you’ll have to deal with consequences. Read multiple sources––always prioritizing the voices of Indigenous people, people of color, queer and trans people––and include actionable information like numbers to call, fundraisers to donate to, organizations to follow, etc.
- Unplug. Take time off of social media. It’s a dumping ground for too much information and our individual and collective pain. This serves a necessary purpose but obviously has adverse effects.
- Find community ASAP. You didn’t mention if you belong to any activist groups. Your solitary voice matters, but you will feel so much more useful within communities of people in action. You need people around you who can share the load and also share coping and survival mechanisms. Divest the faith you have in our government coming through for us or changing loved one’s beliefs––to a point––and put it into your communities and those you wish to serve.
- Depression and anxiety are normal responses to the trauma happening to our planet, its people, and the breakdown of our government. Consider getting into talk therapy if you aren’t already. If I could, I’d make everyone do it.
You can’t make sense out of nonsense. The link between being conservative and outdoor culture is prevalent. If the lily-white politeness of outdoorsy media is any indication, I’d go so far as to say it’s the norm. Folks are either completely silent (complicit) or they’re leaning all the way right. You don’t get to vote for only the things you like about a presidential candidate, you vote for their entire platform. If you love the outdoors, how can you vote for candidates who support oil pipelines, displacing native people from their lands and sacred sites, shrinking our National Parks and Monuments, fracking and the consequent pollution of our bodies of water? If your presidential choice supports these atrocities along with travel bans, transphobic laws, and chucking abortion rights, you are too. There is no distinction. Fiscal conservatism is a lie.
Those who have the most social privilege need to decenter themselves and vote with those who don’t in mind. They need to vote with the entire planet in mind, not just the white picket-fenced microscopic dot where they stand.