It’s a uniquely challenging time to be a Peace Corps Volunteer today – to think that the American Values and ideas we left the comfort and familiarity of our hometowns to promote abroad are now under intense and relentless assault back home.
I spent several weeks this past semester teaching my students about religious tolerance, racial inclusion, ethnic equality, and LGBT rights in America. With my friends that I see regularly in downtown Lanzhou, I have had meaningful discussions regarding freedom of press, speech, and protest in the United States – freedoms that we take for granted back home but are not guaranteed in many other nations, such as the one I reside in now.
I’ve always slept soundly at night under the assumption that the progress we’ve made as a country, and the privileges we’ve earned over the decades and centuries would never be questioned or rolled back.
Enter the Black Swan Event of the century: A Trump Presidency!
Next semester, my slides about the triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement will feel empty and pale, knowing what’s heading our way in terms of voter suppression. I’ll have to add a footnote to the Dakota Access Pipeline lesson, that the victory for environmental activists and indigenous rights activists was short-lived, and the final outcome is still pending, but there will be no fairy tale ending.
And my beloved letter writing campaign to Syrian refugees! It’ll be awfully uncomfortable to have my students read their messages of solidarity to Syrian refugees aloud in front of the classroom, when the English teacher’s President has indefinitely turned his back on all people fleeing from that war-torn country.
Simply put, the policies of the new administration have left me with few avenues and a severely limited arsenal to discuss and promote American Values and the American Dream abroad, without me coming off as a complete hypocrite – or as a subscriber of “alternative facts.”
What can we do as PCVs to protect American Values and the American Dream? If I were still in New York I’m certain I would be walking, marching, protesting at JFK airport with thousands of others. But I’m based in Gansu Province for another year and a half, so that’s an unrealistic option. And the privilege of gathering in large groups to assemble and protest is not afforded to those of us serving in China. There will be no marching or protesting for the duration of my stay here.
What I can do to stay engaged while serving in Lanzhou is make a contribution to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). This nonpartisan organization is working 24/7 in all 50 states to fight for our rights and freedoms as Americans, liberties that I most definitely took for granted my entire life – until now. I implore all my friends and fellow PCVs to support the ACLU as well (yes, I know our meager living stipends leave little wiggle room for large donations, but it is important to support human rights organizations back home at this time, no matter how big or small the contribution).
Now is not the time for indifference, silence, and inaction. If you’re living in America, march, protest, speak – be seen and heard! If you’re a PCV abroad like me, we’ll have to turn to other means of showing solidarity with our fellow citizens back home. Donating to organizations such as the ACLU is one of the most impactful ways to do this. Executive Orders that slowly erode at our most cherished freedoms and rights are just one signature away from being enacted; it’s our duty as Peace Corps Volunteers and citizens to protect everything that has made America the indisputable leader of the free world for so long.