On the Bright Side of Politics by UEA Policy Ambassador Taylor Layton
Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Taylor Layton, second-grade teacher at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Granite School District
“There are many others – including our children and grandchildren -- following after us… Let’s give them hope and opportunity.” Utah Governor Gary Herbert
In today’s politics, it’s easy to despair. Utah is still last in per-pupil funding and it’s easy to feel like citizens’ voices are ignored. At times, it feels like we are being led to despair, ushered by our news media into a never-ending carnival of things to be outraged and depressed by. No matter your political inclinations, there is something to be mad about happening four states over and there is someone to sell it to you. For that reason, it was easy to read Governor Herbert’s 2020 State of the State address as hopelessly naïve or blasé. Why be hopeful, Governor, when there is so much to be mad about?
2020 UEA Policy Ambassador Taylor Layton (far left),
pictured here with faculty from his school.
As I’ve thought it over, however, I’ve come to see the truth in his perspective. For one’s own sake, it’s much better to be hopeful than despondent. Yes, we can sit and bemoan the climate crisis, sit and decry abuses of power and our weakening constitution, but does it really help anything? Or are we just trafficking in discontent? Personally, I checked the national news more than I ever have in the last few weeks and I have also been the most irritated—with politics, with myself, with my students. Maybe some rose-colored glasses would have been helpful.
But it’s not just for our personal mental wellbeing I recommend hopefulness. It’s the right political choice as well. I was struck listening to a New Yorker Radio Hour conversation with Jill Lepore on Democracy in Peril, a discussion, in part, of the rise of fascism in the 1930s. Not only does historical context ground me in a happier version of the present, but it guides me when something is amiss (and of course it is – optimism doesn’t mean ignorance). Her argument was that there is a balancing act in politics – when institutions falter, people engage to improve them. When a population feels divided, they try even harder to see one another. But that requires hope. It requires faith in our institutions and our country. If you stay in the quagmire of fatalism, you’ll likely never leave. Politics is not the weather, something to be planned around. We create it. Get out and make some sunshine.
Want some more hope in your life? Here are some things that help me remain hopeful and positively engaged:
1.Write your state legislators and find something to thank them for. Gratitude is important to practice, and it will set up a positive relationship for future lobbying and advocacy. No matter your representative, it’s possible. Think tax reform – teachers and citizens used our voices; they listened.
2.Come to Educator Day on the Hill! Being in a room with other active and passionate teachers is a great way to feel bigger than yourself. This year will mark my third time going and I always leave with a new friend, a new idea, and a renewed sense of hope for Utah’s children.
3.Push for a change in your school or school district. It’s easy to feel alienated with national issues, so start small. If you have a good idea, share it with other teachers, and you’ll soon find yourself an empowered coalition.
There’s room for all dispositions in politics and I don’t want to scold anyone for justified anger. Agitation is a crucial aspect to organizing. Just never forget, when there is a better future, it won’t be because the earth revolved and winter turned to spring. It will be because we made that future. And that makes me hopeful.
About UEA Policy Ambassadors—
Participants in the UEA Policy Ambassador program are trained in the legislative process, provided opportunities to engage with their legislators and invited share their experiences with other UEA members. Seven teacher volunteers participated as the association's first UEA Policy Ambassador program in 2019. The UEA is continuing the program in 2020.