Justice and Advocacy · Personal reflections · Psychology and mental illness

How I Got Burned Out On Current Events and Politics by Age 19

Trigger warnings: current events and politics

“By voting, you are complying. You are complying to a preexisting system. I think we need real significant change, and that real change won’t come if enough people are complying. While you see voting as expressing yourself, I see it as compliance with the system.” -Russell Brand, who explains not voting in this interview

I first appeared on television when I was four years old. It was the mad cow disease scare of 1996, and my dad took me to a Burger King for lunch. The local Fox channel filmed me, a cute blonde child, grinning and saying, “I love cheeseboogers!”

It was the first time that the media used me to promote corporate irresponsibility, passed off as news. It wasn’t the last. This is a brief timeline of things that led to my disenfranchisement with current events and politics.

Whenever I tell people who are generally older than me that I’m disenfranchised with politics, I mostly get a “you’ll understand when you’re older” response. It says I’m inexperienced, I couldn’t possibly have been involved or informed at such a young age.

But I was involved. At five, I knew what abortion was and I was vehemently pro-life. At nine, I listened to my dad reading graphic stories about Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers and oppressive regime. At twelve, I imagined myself getting arrested for attempting to bring water to Terri Schiavo, and when a 10-year-old did just that, I decided I wanted to get arrested for doing something right. I also campaigned for various senators and congressmen, and they admired me because I was young and focused.

I was twelve when I was riding in the car with my mom, and we were listening to Michael Savage on the radio. It was October 2004, and Savage listed fifty issues that neither Bush nor Kerry had bothered to talk about, among them homeschooling.

“Mom, I can’t tell if he’s a republican or a democrat, because he’s criticizing both sides. What is he?” I asked.

Mom replied, “He’s an Independent.”

I decided then that I wanted to be an Independent – someone who talked about what the main people ignored.

My business experience helped me learn about economics and competitive marketplaces. I could fill an order, package and ship it, and discuss details with a customer when I was ten. Discussing international currency and the simple logic behind supply and demand was a natural next step. My limited information was slanted, though. As a kid, I devoured World Magazine’s “News Current,” which was for kids.

Then there was high school debate competition, where our judging pool was made up almost entirely of homeschooling conservative parents like mine. I debated “both sides” of energy policy, but I didn’t learn about the dangers of frakking until I reached college. I debated “both sides” of illegal immigration, but nobody would dare run a case supporting amnesty and expect to be taken seriously. I debated “both sides” of U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, and I learned of the corrupt police state there, never considering that our own police might also commit serious felonies without going to trial. I debated “both sides” of environmental policy, and in every round, both teams made an economic-based case against saving the planet. Even the phrase “saving the planet” was one we laughed at.

At age 16, I read Friedrich Bastiat’s book The Law and Henry David Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience. I started collecting quotations, and that’s one of my healthier addictions that lasts to this day. I realized I was a libertarian, not just an Independent. I wanted limited government, but Thoreau’s point about interdependence lingered with me: nobody can truly make a life in pure loneliness. Basically, even monks import some goods, and even lone island inhabitants once depended on the nurture of others.

When I did research on my own, I sometimes got confused. We had a competitive event called Extemporaneous (“Extemp”) speech, where you got 30 minutes to prepare a 7-minute speech answering a question about current events. You couldn’t use the Internet, so we carried file boxes into the Extemp prep room, filled with hundreds of neatly sorted news articles. Well, MINE were neatly sorted.

Questions included things like “Is Caterpillar going through metamorphosis?” and “Did Justin Bieber tarnish the Anne Frank guestbook?”

Those are some Extemp questions I wrote for a tournament after I graduated. They’ve stopped asking me to write Extemp questions.

What confused me was that I knew my judges supported Israel over Palestine, but when I looked at a map of the Gaza strip, I realized how tiny it was, and wasn’t sure why Israel was so threatened by a bunch of immigrants there. In my senior year, I was ranked the best Extemp speaker in the state, mostly because I chose topics that people weren’t informed about, and I could appeal to empathy instead of bias. I won a tournament with a vague connection between It’s a Wonderful Life and a minor election in Ireland.

As soon as I had access to a broader base on information, I applied what research, communication, logic, and debate had taught me. Opposing same-sex marriage stopped making sense. Opposing environmentalism stopped making sense. Criminalizing drugs and immigration stopped making sense. Each discovery made the ideal government of my libertarian imagination grow smaller and less necessary.

What finally pushed me to anarchy was working undercover for James O’Keefe in 2012. James and I don’t always agree, but I deeply respect him and I’d name him as one of the most effective people in the world today. I wanted to work for James because I’d picked him out during an undercover sting back in 2006, in which he and Lila Rose caught Planned Parenthood supporting race-selective abortions and failing to report rape. He got more national attention for exposing sex-slavery coverups by ACORN with Hannah Giles, and then lost much of his national rapport when he got arrested in New Orleans during an attempt to expose the lies of a politician there.

Other people gather signatures and make small changes within the existing system. James taught me to make corrupt authorities live up to their own book of rules. I followed his work closely, and noticed that he liked G. K. Chesterton, so I tweeted him my favorite Chesterton quotations. He replied and followed me, so I emailed him and asked to work for him. I wasn’t very good at the work – it’s hard to be taken seriously when your hidden camera is somewhere on a denim outfit – but it gave me a chance to observe the differences between democrats and republicans.

The differences were almost nonexistent. Members of both parties demonized each other. Both parties were aging, and it was rare to see someone my own age. The issues were marginally different, but the tactics, underlying motives, and rhetoric were the same. The corruption was the same. I talked to one of my fellow investigative journalists during a project, and we admitted that after working with democrats, we knew there weren’t any solid arguments against legalizing same-sex marriage. I also learned that there was far too much trust for government among democrats, but republicans weren’t as supportive of limited government as I’d thought.

The democrats were only winning during the 2012 election because they made everything feel like a grassroots effort, when it was just clever marketing. I once walked around a living room in Boulder, served homemade cookies, and then held up a phone on speaker so everyone could listen in on an interview with Michelle Obama. It was no different than an ordinary radio broadcast because it wasn’t interactive, but it felt personal and interactive because we were gathered around a phone in a living room.

When I shadowed a congresswoman in the Colorado capitol, and interviewed the Colorado secretary of state, I thought politics was a giant joke. These people looked powerful from the outside because we used powerful terms to describe their jobs. Once I was inside, I saw a bunch of people striding around importantly, carrying papers and having conversations that were as realistically influential as church ladies gossiping (and church ladies can do loads of damage – I use that comparison to give weight, not to dismiss).

The political system was not the answer. Even exposing corruption within it felt redundant. I voted that year with the realization that my vote meant nothing. My ballot existed to make me feel represented without taking the trouble to actually represent me. It was the second and last time I voted.

I couldn’t read the news anymore. I lost interest in politics. I could only read political philosophy that explored the notion of peaceful anarchy – where people lead themselves instead of turning to authorities to tell them what to do. I was burned out after doing more politically active research and work than most people do in their lives, especially those from older generations who defend voting.

Right now, I’m slowly coming back to current events and politics. I’m not interested in using the system for minor changes anymore. I want to overthrow it.