I have to do something, I thought.
It was the summer of 2018, and, like the rest of the country, I had just heard that the Trump administration was separating children from their families at the border—that kids the same age as my then four-year-old daughter Soleil were sleeping in cages. Staying put at home wasn’t an option. Neither was staying silent.
I told my organization, the people-powered action outfit MoveOn, that I needed to go down to Texas. I couldn’t stay still—I needed to use whatever platform and voice I had to shine a light on the atrocities happening there. So when I was invited to speak at a press conference in El Paso and to go to the Tornillo detention center, one of the many at the border, I put my life on hold and got on the first flight I could. While waiting for my connection in the Dallas airport, I thought about my mom and how she and my dad had brought me to the United States when I was a toddler. I gave her a call, needing to talk to someone who would understand how personal this journey was.
“Mom,” I said. “Imagine if when we landed at JFK, they told you and Papi that they had to take me away.”
She started crying. I got on the first flight I could.
Decades ago, another family arrived in New York City, fleeing violence and dictatorship in their home country of Haiti, wanting their children to have a better life than they did. That family was strong, but not strong enough to withstand the dictatorship that had come to define their country, turning one of the Western hemisphere’s first democracies into authoritarian rule. Together, they fled the dictatorship where their words were censored—but their ambitions couldn’t be.
They then faced an impossible choice. To escape, they needed money; Haiti no longer had jobs, at least not for them. So they decided to go to Martinique, which offered a shot at immigration to the United States through France, but they couldn’t bring their one-year-old son with them. So they left him with other family members, determined to come back for him. But they never saw him again: By the time they were ready to immigrate to the United States a year later, he had passed away.
That story—of a young girl from Martinique who was just as much Haitian as she was American, and whose family sacrificed so much just to get here—that’s my story. That’s how I ended up here today, a proud Haitian-American—because of two hard-working parents from Haiti who wanted a better life for me. My parents taught me by example what it means to be American: to hope and to dream, and to work hard for those hopes and dreams.
Coming from a dictatorship to them being hopeful meant having freedom and having a voice you could use, whether you agreed with the government or not. And on that sweltering summer day in El Paso and Tornillo, I was hopeful because of all the people I saw using their voices, all the people who said no—to locking children in cages to separating parents from their kids to staying silent.
I’m hopeful because of everyone who came out that day to do something, anything, and who refused to be quiet. Activists, civil rights leaders, union leaders like Dolores Huerta, and faith leaders all came together to say that this is not okay. Despite our different backgrounds, we all knew we needed to use our voices and our influence to stop this inhumanity. I’m hopeful because of the stories I read about people who, as soon as they saw the news, dropped everything to drive down to the border to help. I’m hopeful because that day I stood alongside people representing workers, teachers’ unions, and every imaginable walk of life.
These last three years have shown us the depths of hatred and bigotry. There have been moments that tested my hope and my spirit, like the president saying there “were very fine people on both sides” when a white supremacist killed a peaceful protestor in Charlottesville, or when he referred to African and Temporary Protective Status nations like Haiti as “shithole countries.” And yet, I remain staunchly hopeful. Because even though I’ve never seen anything as horrific as what I saw at the border and over the past three years, I’ve also never seen Americans this loud, this energized, and this defiant.
The day of Trump’s inauguration, he talked about “American carnage.” I was providing political analysis for PBS NewsHour, so I had to watch it live. I felt hopeless. But then the Women’s March happened. From the roof of a Washington, D.C., building, I saw millions of women and allies march on the capitol. We made that happen, I thought—the largest-ever demonstration in U.S. history. We did that.
When Trump announced his disturbing Muslim travel ban, people flooded airports with protests. When Trump nominated a man accused of sexual assault to the Supreme Court, people across the country rejected it—leading to a national hearing and reckoning about sexual violence and gender justice.
In 2017 and 2019, as an analyst on MSNBC, a MoveOn staffer, and an alum of the Obama White House, I watched in state elections across the country as voters said no to this administration’s record of terror and hatred and elected progressives across the ballot. In 2018, I witnessed Americans all over the country vote in the most diverse Congress in history, repudiating the Trump administration’s regime of white supremacy.
Why am I hopeful? Because I’ve seen the depths of our despair, but also the depths of our power. I’ve seen what happens when we join together. Trump wants people like me and my family to be scared. He leads out of fear, because that’s what he is: fearful, of who we are and what we are capable of when we use hope and love to guide us.
In the lead-up to 2020, he should be scared. The last three years have taught us the power—and necessity—of standing up for what we believe in. Last year I woke up to the news at the border and told myself I had to do something. So I raised my voice. Across the country, people are raising their voices. Across the country, people are waking up and saying they have to do something.Then they go ahead and do it.
Karine Jean-Pierre is the author of “Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America,” available now from HarperCollins/Hanover Square Press.
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Originally Appeared on Vogue