A little over a year ago I made a list of things that I want to accomplish by the time I turn 30. This list includes items such as serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, read 150 new books, learn two new languages, earn a master’s degree, become financially independent, and fall in love among other things. I chose the items on my list for the most part because I think they will contribute in some way or another to my self-improvement – intellectual, social, economic, physical or otherwise. Other items are on the list because I think they’re useful skills to have (driving a manual, knitting a sweater) or they would just be fun to do (swimming with sharks). This personal project has been going well. I take stock of my progress monthly, update my projections for each task’s completion, and make notes about what I could be doing better. There’s one item in particular that I would like to talk about today and that is writing a personal manifesto.
A personal manifesto is a declaration of core beliefs and values and how you intend to live your life based on them. At first it seemed such a daunting task because I originally thought of a manifesto as a binding document, a contract with myself. To write about your core values and beliefs and expect them to stick for your whole life is just silly at 23 years old. Already, in my short appearance here on this beautiful earth, I have changed so much. Writing something so absolute sets impossible standards. Instead, I have decided to approach my manifesto as a living document, one that will change as I do. It isn’t a contract, but simply a statement and an action plan that will help me to be more mindful and purposeful about how I live my life. Even with this more flexible concept I wasn’t sure where to start until the results of the US elections were announced and then all of a sudden I knew. The first iteration of my personal manifesto would be a statement of my principles and intended actions as an American citizen living abroad.
During the maelstrom that was the run up to the elections I was happy to not have regular access to internet; to not have to hear and read the daily updates on how much further America had sunk into insanity. I did not participate in any meaningful way to discussions or campaigns. I reveled in my ability to escape the rhetoric. I received weekly updates – the bare bones – from someone who did have access to the news (thanks Michael!). When it came time I was happy to just mail in my ballot and call it a day, but that was not enough. I cannot in good conscience simply ‘escape’ anymore.
Living abroad has provided me physical distance from the aftermath of the elections that has been quite helpful for my mental health, but unlike the Americans who are threatening to move abroad, I am trying to figure out a way to become more engaged. I can’t be in America to protest, attend town halls, and support my loved ones in person and that makes me feel quite useless in light of the recent increases in hate crimes and the immeasurable fear that has taken root in the hearts of so many Americans. However, the process of writing this manifesto has been cathartic in that it has helped me to explore so many other avenues of civic participation open to me while living abroad and formulate a plan forward in this new era.
Emma’s Personal Manifesto 1.0: An American Citizen Living Abroad
I will educate myself to the best of my ability about the plight of those who identify differently than myself. I will educate myself about the views and opinions of those who do not agree with me. I will seek out books, editorials, art, television, film, music, discussions and any other media that will provide me with insight into the lives of those different from me. I will educate myself on how to best be an ally to those who do not share my privileges. I will live by the motto ‘Learn Better, Do Better.’
I will recognize my own privilege in every form and how it influences my opinions and my view of the world. I will not hide from my privilege and I will not be ashamed of my privilege. Rather I will find new ways to use my privilege to help others. I will take my privilege and turn it against itself. I will use my privilege to close the gap between my privilege and my neighbor’s. At every turn I will check my privilege.
I will advocate for any and all whose human rights are infringed upon. I will stand as an ally with those who do not share my privileges. I will listen first and act second. I will consult those who I claim to be an ally for. I will do as they need and not as I think they need. I will not wear the word ‘ally’ as a badge of honor, but as a responsibility to humanity. Where possible, I will create safe spaces for those who feel fear.
I will engage in every step of the democratic process. I will vote in every election. I will communicate with every elected official. I will sign every petition that aligns with my beliefs. I will engage others in discussion. I will keep up to date on local, state, and national issues. I will engage with non-governmental entities to make a stand where civic avenues fail me.
I will represent the best of my country. I will not hide the hatred and intolerance that exists, but I will provide an example to counter it. I will show that there are Americans who would rather lead with love than with hate, who are welcoming of differences, who embrace diversity because they recognize that our nation is stronger for it. I will show that there are Americans out there who are willing to stand up to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, ableism, and every other form of hatred.