Adjusting to New Political Surroundings

Photo credit: Sharayah Bower

Moving is an oddly cleansing experience. I donated many things I didn’t need to those that do. I left behind my ties to—and familiarities with—my hometown. And best of all, I made myself uncomfortable again. Uncomfortable is a good state for me. Despite the time, patience, and will it takes to adjust to a new setting, I like being surrounded by new experiences and different ideas that constantly challenge my own. This is something I have to do for myself, perhaps as an effort to never turn out as unaware, apathetic and ignorant like Trump. After a 5-year bout bouncing around Berks County, PA I was happy to accept a new job somewhere different. A new adventure!

I have spent the past few weeks settling into my new apartment conveniently tucked in the lovely Italian Market section of South Philadelphia. I also began my new position as an administrative assistant at an architect firm a mere three days after moving into my new place. While the transition has gone smoother than expected, I’m realizing that I don’t know a great deal about how Philly’s local politics work. Everything feels more overwhelming now that I’m in a city and no longer a small town–or should I say, a circle of homes near railroad tracks that isn’t populated enough to even support its own mail carrier. Oh Lyons, PA (population 476)…your charm lies in your short polling lines!

Something I realized immediately since moving is that it’s no longer acceptable to talk freely about my political beliefs and opinions with my peers because, as of now, my peers consist mostly of my new coworkers. This has been an abrupt transition for me despite previously having worked in the business corporate setting. As I referenced in my last article, it can be a challenging transition to shift between different social/professional spheres (such as academia and business), especially when you really enjoyed where you were before. In my case, I loved being a student.  I’m going to try to remember that I said I love being a student when I begin a PhD program. Overall, different social and professional spheres call for different vocabularies, different customs, different topics, etc. I’m no longer a student who can speak freely and suffer no serious consequences. I’m an administrative assistant who can be fired. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this because together my brain and loud personality are still stuck in opinionated student mode.

During my first work team meeting, I decided to mention that I write for a political blog. This is something about myself that makes me proud. I enjoy being a writer especially during a time when the highly sensitive Dictator Trump is attempting to subdue and censor the media (Seth wrote a great article about this that you can check out here). But as soon as I shared this factoid about myself, I felt a polite (and still) pause in the room. I read the signals and moved on. I get it. While I’m sure many of my new coworkers could be interested in hearing more about what I do (and write about) outside of the office, we are an architecture firm. So we talk about architecture stuff. And that’s exactly how the meeting proceeded. My feelings were not hurt. If anything I realized AGAIN that I am no longer a student. I am lucky to be surrounded by seriously skilled and educated people at my new job. I work with a really cool group who have been nothing but warm and welcoming towards me. I’m excited to see what I have to learn from them, but clearly work will not be a place for discussions about politics …unless maybe I can pry their minds at the next happy hour. We’ll see!

Overall, I think I miss the classroom because, for the most part, everyone had to listen to me. Joking aside, academia is truly a place where discussions about politics are not only accepted but often encouraged. In many cases, our English and Writing/Comp professors would alter lessons specifically to incorporate political news and happenings whether it was local, national, or world news. This isn’t to say they forced us into these discussions. The political world shapes us all whether we enjoy talking about it or not. In my experience, we would often ask professors for class time to discuss political issues. A classroom really is the perfect place for discussions of any kind, and so discussions regarding politics seemed to happen organically. I really miss that, and I think that is why I’m still feeling a little lost. I don’t know where my new political community is yet. If not at work, where can I find a new community here? Where do I find my local resistance members? How can I make time to educate myself about what’s going on in the city?  Who represents me? What’s going on? Where can I hang out and just discuss politics? And the question that encompasses them all: How can I become politically involved in my new home?

After the move I decided to start with the basics, although remembering to change and update every little aspect of your life is difficult when you’re moving.I found this checklist incredibly helpful.  One of the first things I did as soon as I knew my new address was update my license and voter registration. Call it over-preparedness, but I’m gearing up for the future because Trumplandia is a real life nightmare shit-show. So my next step was to figure out who represents me, and whether or not I like who represents me. National politics are not the only politics that affect us. Therefore I had no time to waste, nor do you! Even if you’re attending college and living on/around campus during the semester, it’s important to know who your representatives are at your permanent address. These are the people who make changes that directly affect you and your family. These are the people who change and affect your local businesses, your schools, your neighborhoods and so much more.  

If you live in Pennsylvania, the PA General Assembly website it a great resource to figure out who your PA House, PA Senate, and US House representatives are for your district once you move. Heck, if you don’t know who these people are now and you haven’t moved, why not take a look? Their site is simple and user friendly—two things anyone can appreciate when interacting with a website.  Once you click on the site, you will see on the top of the site a section that says “house.” Once you hover over it there is a drop down menu that with a section called “Who’s my legislator?” You can click this link and type your address to find the names of the people who make decisions on your behalf. The next part is to figure out whether or not you agree with what these people are doing. And if you don’t, then you need to make sure you are registered to vote in time for the next primary election, which in PA will be May 16,2017. Also, you must make sure your address is up to date 30 days prior to the election, or you will have to return home to your old address to vote. For my fellow Philadelphians you can click here to view both the city and state offices that are up for election.

These are clearly the surface logistics, but becoming politically involved does not need to stop there. If you’re in school I would recommend seeking out–or creating your own–political clubs/groups. Those are the spaces where you can be surrounded by people with different ideas and opinions who are also interested in the political world. My alma mater, Kutztown University, has many groups including the Political Science Club. These groups are great for helping you to both feel and be more informed. News articles are helpful, but sometimes it’s more productive to talk about these issues out loud or on an online forum/platform with other people. That way you have the option to discuss and ask each other questions. Groups like these can be empowering and often help to create a sense of political community. My friend group in college seemed to work doubly as a political group which was convenient for me and my busy schedule. Every one of us made sure that we were registered to vote for the Presidential election. My good friend,Heather, even offered rides to friends who lived on campus that needed to return home to vote. That’s what a real community is like–one that empowers each other! Groups that are politically aware are the groups that can make change. Facebook and Twitter are also a great places to find a specific groups near you, and sometimes these groups are smaller and more informal–which may be what you’re looking for?

So as I’m finding out, there are many ways to become more politically informed regardless of where you live or how much time you have. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by a big change (like a new move), but I would say the first important step is to make sure you’re registered to vote and find out who represents you! The deadline to register to vote in the May elections is April 14, 2017. Next, make sure your research these people to see if you are happy with their background and  actions. If you are not happy, then the next step is really on you. Depending on what you want, you can show up to vote, campaign to help a candidate in the future, or decide to run for an office yourself in the future!

About Sharayah Bower 4 Articles
Sharayah Bower is a recent graduate from Kutztown University's English Master's Program (located in South-Eastern, PA). She has focused closely on African American and Indigenous feminine texts and would like to pursue a PhD program where she can further her studying, knowledge, and awareness about these cultures and their contemporary issues (especially those dealing with gender and rape culture). In the near future, she intends to teach English and Composition by focusing closely on narrative writing as an attempt to more effectively educate others and counter rape culture. She also enjoys tutoring others with their writing because it has only helped to improve her own. She views writing as both fun and empowering, and you should too!