With Christmas done and over with, and New Years almost upon us, I’m looking back on the memories I have of my mother and grandmother, both of whom passed away in the last month. I could go on and on about how wonderful my grandmother’s cooking was, or how great of a teacher my mother was, but instead I’m going to focus on how these two women helped mold me into the person I am today. Both of them were strong, spunky, loving women who taught me to follow my dreams and always do what I think is right.
Although my mother was never fully able to understand why I am so involved as an activist, she always supported the fact that I found something I am so passionate about. In fact, it was because of her that I first became politically active, although it wasn’t intentional on her part. As a teacher, she was specifically attacked by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill that was introduced in February of 2011. My mother called me on Friday, February 11th, 2011 (also known as the day Walker dropped “the bomb”) and she filled me in on what was happening. I remember her telling me that Walker even put the National Guard on alert in case of citizens responding to this legislation.
I instantly got on my computer to look into it more, and I came across a Facebook event telling people to come to the State Capitol that Monday. I had never been to a protest in my entire life, but I decided that this was something I needed to do – for my mom, and for everybody else who would be affected. But, there was only one problem… I was very sick at the time, and had just been prescribed antibiotics from the doctor. I was also going to college in Milwaukee, which is an hour and a half from the State Capitol in Madison, so a quick trip to at least check it out wasn’t possible. Monday came and went, and I was hearing that thousands of people had showed up that day and that they were planning to come back on Tuesday. On Tuesday, more people showed up, and that was the first night that people slept over at the Capitol. On Wednesday, I decided I didn’t care how sick I was, I had to make it to the Capitol. So I went with a couple of friends, and that day changed the course of my life.
The scene was like nothing I had ever seen before. Tens of thousands of people were there, streets were closed down because the cops couldn’t control us, and the sounds of drumming and chanting echoed throughout the entire Capitol building. I instantly fell in love with everything that was happening there. On the ride home that day, I was wondering how long this would be going on, and if I would even be able to make it back before it ended. But, I woke up the next day, went back to the Capitol, and that was the first night I slept over. I kept returning day after day, and slept over when my class schedule allowed. I couldn’t stay away from Madison, so I ended up skipping classes to be there. Ultimately, I dropped out of school, which my mother was definitely not happy about, as she was a teacher. Although I had always pictured myself finishing college, I realized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I decided I couldn’t miss out on it.
Since then I have committed my entire life to fighting for social and economic justice. I was on the front lines of our fight in Wisconsin until I decided it was time to take the next step in my life, and I moved to NYC five months ago where the Occupy movement is still alive and kicking. Now I am working as a crowdfunded photojournalist, covering protests and other political events, along with currently telling the story of Hurricane Sandy aftermath and cleanup.
Everyone in my family is supportive of my life, but many of them still have a hard time fully grasping why I do what I do – and I don’t blame them. I’m sure it seems crazy to many people that I have given up the comfortable lifestyle I had in order to spend all of my time fighting against our repressive, corrupt government, which includes living off of donations for my work. But, my grandmother was always extremely understanding and loved hearing about what I had been up to. Whenever I visited her, she was quick to ask what my last adventures had been. Even when I tried to ask about her life, she would brush the question off and ask to hear more of my stories. She constantly told me how proud she was of me, but she didn’t even have to say it out loud because I could see it in her eyes.
Before all of this, my plan was to finish my major in criminal justice and become a police officer in New York City someday. I did end up in NYC, but instead I’m an activist who has been pepper sprayed, shoved around, and arrested by police officers while fighting to make this world a better place… and it all started with a phone call from my mom and continued with support from my grandma. Although these two wonderful women are no longer physically in my life, they are still in my heart, and I know that the lessons I learned from them will keep me on the right path in life.
Update: I should also add that I was struggling a lot in college after being diagnosed with ADD partway through my freshman year. I was suffering from depression and anxiety, and had basically hit rock bottom. Finding my passion for activism helped me get through that, so my mother and grandmother helping me find this passion may have very well saved my life.