Somewhere between the 2016 Election and the Women’s March, I caught myself wondering where I got the activist streak that’s been growing in me for the last several years. I was entirely apolitical in High School, following my mother’s example to a certain extent.
People who follow me on Facebook today might know that I’ve got some very intense views (Speaking of which, I am extremely anti-Trump and pro-feminism. Meaning that if you’re not into that sort of thing, this is your polite invitation to leave us be).
The answer to the question surprised me: I learned from my friend Peter’s example.
My third (of five) years in college caught me at at bit of an odd time. Coming out of a relationship and a religion that made up the bulk of my identity, I was trying to figure out who I was going to be. This meant I needed new friendships, new goals, new probably everything.
One of the friends I made, Peter, was a year or two younger than I was. He wore glasses and a beard, a black, zip-up hoodie with a sausage on the back. He sat a couple of rows ahead of me in my medieval lit class. I don’t remember how we even started talking, but within a few weeks, he was part of my core friend group. There were six of us, in all. Pizza, beer and zombie movies became a regular thing–every week or two.
Nostalgia could drag me away from the thread: He talked about his activism pretty casually, but never dragged me out to his meetings. A number of his activist friends became my friends, but no one ever asked me why I never showed up for the causes (hell, no one even tried to convert me to them). I watched the campus news reporting on Northeastern’s janitorial staff landed a better contract, saw the work the Justice for Janitors group had done. Never thought about it beyond “hey, good for Peter and his friends.”
One night, after Scott Brown was elected briefly as a Massachusetts Senator, he and I went out and had a few depressed drinks. We talked more politics, we drowned our political sorrows. It was the first time I really cared about a political thing. We stayed out most of the night, met up with a mutual friend and had a few more drinks.
We graduated, we worked on a few projects together. We kept up the pizza and beer, we talked all night on a few occasions. Eventually, he moved away from Boston. We stayed in touch (not as much as I wished we had, but when we chatted it was always as though the miles were not there).
Somewhere in there, I started attending the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center charity walk annually. Somewhere along the way, my Facebook feed started to fill up with more and more political posts. At some point in the intervening years, I’d started to pick up those activist tendencies.
Peter passed away in 2014. A few months before my sister and cousin did (it was a rough year). I was grateful to have known him, to have had years of his friendship, and to shared jokes with him. I have many fond memories of him, but it wasn’t until this year that I realized the impact his life had on me. I don’t have the fire he had, or the experience, but I will do what I can to honor that impact.
I share this story mostly to encourage you: you never know who’s watching. The sarcastic, goofy dude from your English class could pick up your advocacy lessons without being taught.