It seems a bit like I was flung from the frying pan into the fire when it comes to political strife. I left the US in the middle of a bitterly partisan and fractured presidential cycle and entered Ireland on the cusp of their upcoming general election. I came to this country knowing very little about their politics, other than the fact that Prime Minister and President are two different positions.
I have always been quite politically active back in the US. However, I was unsure what kind of space I would have in Ireland to be involved in both US and Irish politics. For the first few weeks here, I stayed away from any kind of political discussion with my housemates or friends, for fear of making enemies too quickly.
However, the Iowa caucus came around, and I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I mentioned the curious American tradition of caucusing, and my Irish housemates, and even some American friends, were intrigued. I found myself explaining how the process works, and we quickly ended up in a conversation about the issues and who we supported.
Soon, my Irish housemates were explaining their system to me. I already understood some of it from my past comparative politics classes, but what I knew was just the baseline- the actual intricacies, and how it affects real people, was unknown to me. As they discussed-and fought- over the differences between Fine Fail, Fine Gael, Sinn Fein, and all the various parties, I was happy to stay silent, in a realm I am almost always loud in.
It’s important to realize when you are not the expert. In the US, I’m always “on” when it comes to politics since it’s so important in both my work and my personal life. I often find myself explaining, informing, and leading on these issues, especially on things like women's health issues, or climate change. But learning to listen is half the battle when it comes to changing people's minds on such important issues. How can you help someone understand something if you don’t understand their own beliefs yourself?
I wondered what the right choice was when I attended a recent Fridays For Future climate strike in central Galway. The event was mostly run by secondary school (high school) students, and I attended with a group from NUIG. Normally, I’d be yelling chants, or encouraging bystanders to come join us. This time around, I was happy to stay back and watch. The growth doesn’t come from staying silent, but from staying loud in your heart and keeping your ears open.