Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Who Lives in the Real World?

College can get claustrophobic. You live in a tiny dorm, apartment, or dumpy house, either on campus or within easy distance of it. If you have a job, you probably work as a campus janitor, campus cashier, or campus research assistant. If you're not employed by the school, you don't have far to go to get to work. I go to a good sized school with a gym, health clinic, grocery store, bank, florist, and laundromat on campus. Most of my social outings are concerts, games, and events put on by school clubs or teams. I don't have much reason to leave.
Our lives are compact and consolidated. But are they any less real than those of people who aren't in college?
In high school, "real world" referred to our post-graduation lives. Now I'm in college, and "real world" refers to life after our second graduation. I can't imagine what it's like to get a Ph D. They'd never get to live in the real world. A few months back I ate lunch with a non-student who was waiting for her husband to finish his shift at the cafeteria grill. She did not work for the school. She worked for a security company, and she said she'd learned a lot about alarm systems in her time there, "But that won't be any use in the real world."
Out of state students refer to the world beyond Utah as the real world. Except for the Hawaiians-their real world is the mainland. So far as I can tell, you can never live in the real world, because the real world is wherever you aren't.
So what is the real world, then?
I'm troubled by the idea that the "real world" can only be inhabited by people who work for money. This excludes children and students and paints them as something other than real people. Even high schoolers with after school jobs are caught up in this "unreal people" designation. If children don't live in the real world, what about retired people? What about people with disabilities, the unemployed? And what about stay-at-home moms?
I've heard too many mothers refer to themselves, ashamedly, as "just a mom". I hear women stress that motherhood is a job, the most important job, and not a job that everyone can do right. Can't a woman's work be valued without putting it in the same category as work-for-pay?
For centuries, the world's most popular occupation was farmer, and you had to live on your farm. Father, Mother, Brother, and Sister all worked the family farm. Then the Industrial Revolution came around, and would-be farmers found jobs in cities. Men would wake up in the home and commute by foot or trolley cart to their workplace. Women continued to stay home. This birthed the idea of the domestic sphere-a separate world for women than men. The man's sphere, of course, was valued more, so it was the woman who didn't live in the real world, though the man was the one to leave. My dad always tells me that he doesn't work because he enjoys it, he does it to support our family. If the workplace world only exists to support the home, doesn't the home have a better claim to be the One Real World? Can there really be only one?
So far as I can figure, the real world is whatever corner of the world isn't relevant to your lifestyle or expertise at any given time. This real world notion devalues people of many ages and stages, but especially young people. If a retired office worker, laid off office worker, and the stay at home wife of an office worker can all live in the real world, so should their sons and daughters. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

My First Protest

Assembling care package materials with other young volunteers outside of Salt Lake City Metro Planned Parenthood
Back in middle school, around the time I started this blog, I was in love with revolution. I listened to music with themes of uprising and victory and watched the Arab Spring unfold on social media. I read histories of labor strikes and the Civil Rights movement and bemoaned being born in a place and time with nothing to protest. I researched issues I was passionate about and expressed my opinions over the Internet, but I wanted the real thing. In my dorm hall last year, I was having a conversation with my hallmates when the topic turned to protest and two of them mentioned causes they'd been involved in back home. As if every high schooler waved a sign at some point. I walked away from that conversation feeling like I was wasting my youth. I write about other teenagers making a difference. Wasn't this the stage of my life where I should be waving signs and crowding courthouse lawns?
Around this time, I started researching abortion and came to feel passionate about the pro-life movement. For a year I researched the science, ethics, and history of the issue. I sent emails, made calls, listened to podcasts, and read all I could to learn more. But only recently did I think to research pro-life groups in my area. I joined a Facebook group and watched the calendar until I found an event that could work with my school schedule.
Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the US. Groups across the country have gathered this week to protest outside of clinics. Pro-Life Utah organized a protest/service project outside a clinic in downtown Salt Lake City. This location does nothing but abortions, women who want other services are directed to a clinic across town. It is one of two advertised abortion clinics in the state. Together, these two clinics are responsible for around 3,000 preborn deaths a year.
Yesterday morning, I drove from my college town to Salt Lake for my first protest. I was nervous. I went alone and didn't know a soul there outside of interactions on Facebook. I had no idea what to expect. I'd told my parents and roommates I was spending the day on a service project so they wouldn't worry. But what if it got out control?
When I pulled up to the clinic, there were no waving fists or shaking signs. The clinic wasn't even open on Saturdays, so there were no customers to confront. Most of the "protest" was focused on providing for a local woman named Bryonna who has cerebral palsy and is facing pressure from doctors and family members to abort her son. We tied a quilt and collected donations to help her buy disability-friendly baby care equipment. We also pinned blankets, wrote notes, and assembled care packages for other women in crisis pregnancies. No shouting. No banners. No crowds. Not counting the media, the women, children, and men in attendance numbered somewhere around twenty. It was a service project, no different than many I've done for school or church, except for the fact that we were on the lawn of an abortion clinic.
There's something romantic about screaming and shaking posters. And those protests serve a purpose. It's important to raise your voice about the things you value, to let the world see you swarm the public square. But any problem that exists in the real, tangible world needs real, tangible action to solve it, not just the chaos and clamor of people expressing their opinions. Maybe a revolution can be as soft as a baby blanket.
Service is just as important as expression, though not as romantic. When you're young, you romanticize change. But young and old people alike can do good in more quiet ways. At age fourteen, I cheered on Syrian revolutionaries fighting to bring down a tyrannical government. At age fifty, my mother has just decided she needs to learn Arabic. She wants to help refugees because she used to be one herself. In fifth grade, her family moved to Iran for my grandfather's work, intending to stay for five years. The revolution forced them out one year later. My mom was allowed to take a single suitcase and a footlocker on the plane home, but both were lost or damaged in transit. She returned to America with almost nothing. Their house had been leased out for the time they planned to spend in Iran, so they had nowhere to live. But they had advantages this influx of refugees doesn't. They were citizens. They had friends. They could speak the language. My mom went on to major in political science because of her experiences and worked for the government before becoming a stay at home mom. Now she feels called to learn a whole new language.
I guess it's never to late to help people and acquire the skills to do so. We might feel like the glory days are always behind us, but there are battles to fight all around you no matter where you live. You don't need to shake your fist to be a catalyst for change.