Dearest Pancake Brains,
My first newsletter was sappy as hell, and I meant every word. It is really such a trip to be able to write directly to people who want to hear from me. Suffice it to say, this is not always the case.
A few months ago, I took my mom to a concert, and she recalled being at the same venue in her 20s, watching people throw tomatoes at the opening band. I remember being totally dumbfounded by the literal version of an idea I’d only met as a metaphor. Where did they get the tomatoes, exactly? Were they rotten tomatoes from the fridge at home? Did they stop at the supermarket to get fresh tomatoes on the way over to the show? Also, what if the opening act turned out to be surprisingly delightful? Since they brought tomatoes, they would probably throw them anyway. That sort of premeditated aggression is often the guiding mode of Twitter, and, at this point, I’ve stopped even bothering to fully shower off all the tomato juice.
I’m not sure how much longer I will last on that site. The kind of harassment we’re witnessing on social media is a form of psychological terrorism unprecedented in the scope of human history, and it has taken a toll. That said, I’m determined to continue using my platform to the full extent of its power at least through Election Day 2020. Until then, I’ll be working hard, online and off, to spread the word of “How to Start a Revolution,” which seeks to document and sustain a youth-led movement toward personal political agency. My goal is building equitable public power, and I hope to do that by convincing as many young people as possible to get involved in the political process, as I believe that is the most surefire path to true democracy — defeating Donald Trump is just a bonus.
I’m giving myself to this fight for at least one more year, because I feel the need to see this thing through our next major national test of character.
This journey started for me on November 8, 2016. Struck by the atrocity of Trump’s win, I felt it no longer made sense to write about anything other than politics. Over the course of two days, I channelled that energy into book proposal. I was hoping to be able to pay my rent and afford healthcare while using my greatest (and only) skill to make sense of the great American dumpster fire. At 25, I had a few years of experience as an entertainment reporter and a cute following on the hell site, so I decided to shoot my shot.
The sample chapter of my book proposal was an essay titled, “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America.” On December 10, 2016 after then-President-elect Trump contradicted American intelligence agencies for the first time, I published the piece to Teen Vogue. It promptly went viral. Over a million people read the essay in under 24 hours (and one of them was Dan Rather, who shared the essay on Facebook that afternoon). As a friend put it at the time, “It’s like you decided to write about politics, and a hole opened in the center of the Earth.”
About two weeks later, I was invited to appear on Fox news across from Tucker Carlson. Now, at this point, you probably know Tucker as America’s foremost poster boy of white supremacy. In December of 2016, I was only aware of him as the bowtie in that YouTube video where Jon Stewart called him a partisan hack.
What unfolded was a hostile, anti-journalistic act of public bullying. I’ve dissected it at length in “How to Start a Revolution,” but for our purposes here, you need only the most critical line of the interview: At the end of the interview, citing fashion and entertainment posts I had written for Teen Vogue, Carlson told me to “Stick to the thigh-high boots, you’re better at that.”
It was shocking in the moment. Before I even got out of the door of Fox studios in New York, my inbox was flooded with death and rape threats. The deluge of hatred shot poison through my veins. I crashed from the stress, and found myself bed-ridden for five days. In retrospect, and after extensive healing work, I have come to reckon with the fact that the harassment I faced at the end of 2016 cast my brain into the looping nightmare of PTSD. When I was finally strong enough to get out of bed, I understood that continuing to raise my voice would come at great cost to my mental and physical health. I saw no choice but to keep going.
As it turns out, it would have been quite rational for me to give up entirely. I’m participating in a panel on bothsidesism with Angelo Carusone of Media Matters for America this weekend. Angelo studies Fox News’s far-right experiences, and he has seen Fox have a chilling effect on those who appear on the show. Fox News is not only its anchors and guests churning out paranoia bred through disinformation. As an entity, Fox is also the rabid pestilence of radicalized viewers, who swarm to attack and destroy the mental wellbeing of anyone who raises their voice in opposition to the channel’s doctrine. On a call to prepare for our conversation, Carusone told me he has watched that force warp the behavior of guests, with people either adjusting their message or dropping out of public life. He told me that the fact that I refused to back down made me an anomaly.
When Tucker said I should “Stick to the thigh-high boots,” he was insisting that I did not have a right to the political conversation. This point was then further emphasized by a Biblically-grotesque horde of harassers, who echoed Tucker’s insult with a retching howl of hatred that threatened to wipe out my will to live.
As I saw it, I was being offered two choices: crawl into a hole and die, or rise from the ashes like a goddamn phoenix. I chose the latter.
It became obvious to me that the goal of it all was to get me to shut up. I refused to listen. In spite of it all, I am grateful for Tucker’s fatal error. He profoundly screwed up when he told me to “Stick to the thigh-high boots.” See, that statement makes for a bull’s eye for the ridiculous notion that feminized interests are disqualifying when it comes to politics. That noxious brand of sexism usually appears with the stealth of an odorless class, and Tucker translated it into flashing lights. It was as if I saw the matrix through his bullshit: The political conversation is dictated by all these bizarre, secret rules about what is respectable, and it’s not based on anything other than the crap that old, white dudes like. I’ve said it before, and I’ve said it again: who the fuck decided that golf is so serious?
The political conversation is for everyone, and there are no disqualifying interests. Democratic citizenship is a matter of actively participating in the question of how we ought to live together, and we have to be able to do that while enjoying our lives. These things are inextricably linked, and the work of segregating pop culture and politics as if they are oil and vinegar only serves to benefit people in power. (See also: “Stick to the sports.”)
I refused to shut up, and, for at least a while longer, I plan to keep going with my message, which is this: We all have a right and a duty to the political conversation, and we must insist on constantly raising our voices, at the ballot box, and well beyond it.
The proposal I wrote in the wake of the election went on to become “How to Start a Revolution.” In the published book, I document the post-Trump political awakening from passively navigating a broken system to actively seeking to change it, detailing the shift as it already underway in youth insurgencies, and aiming to sustain the transformation with a plan for a culture of constant citizenship.
If that resonates with you, I hope you’ll join me in my effort to get millions of young people invested in politics. For now, I’m planning for this newsletter to be weekly posts dissecting current events through the lens of “How to Start a Revolution.” Each week, I’ll aim to expand the conversation, building out this lil’ community and my mission. If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll grab a copy, and spread the world, in real life and online — I can’t wait to hear what you think.
Until next week, pancake brains!
P.s. I’m hoping to do Q&As with student journalists who are interested in “How to Start a Revolution.” If you’re a student journalist (hi!) or know one who might be interested: Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with what you will plan to publish (an interview, a review, etc), and I’ll get you a copy.