Polled into politics

Staffer+Bennie+Chang+holds+up+a+mini+American+flag%2C+symbolizing+his+love+for+politics.

Photo by Mei Corricello

Staffer Bennie Chang holds up a mini American flag, symbolizing his love for politics.

Bennie Chang

At the beach, showers of silky sand and armies of sculptured cliffs have allured adventurers, swimmers and casual water waders for centuries. The breeze of savory oceans and goose-bumped skins are almost indistinguishable from the continental drift of sand as innocent echoes call for the water like nymphs — almost as if they have eternally existed.

At the beach, though, I see leagues and millennia polish shards into powdered dust and boulders into smoothed pebbles of tranquility. I feel voices build sandcastle paradises. Slowly, softly, but surely.

For me, politics spells out clean, sans serif, like CNN’s section title “politics.” Vibrant, lively and impactful, our government captured my heart and enthralled me to dive into its vass boundless seas. During middle school, I scuttled home with my squealing roller backpack to scour the internet for the latest political news. Politicians became my imaginary friends, and I hoped, too, to become theirs.

2016 and beyond: Americans saw Trumpism reshape politics and government become synonymous with partisanship. The Mueller report, Kavanaugh confirmation and Jan. 6 insurrection stressed divisions, but more significantly redefined truth, a concept so simple yet surprisingly, understandably convoluted. Trust eroded with truth.

While hope around me plummeted like rocks, my soul demanded the currents of political love to flow and erode the feelings of madness. Childhood memories of political possibilities and goodness clung to me, as effervescence guided me back to dreams — momentous ones of public service, but also stepping stone hopes of meeting those who sparked my mad passion. Politicians, I determined to meet. Moreover, I sought to highlight the unseen good that occurs behind the backdrop of Washington’s political drama and to help others realize the endless possibilities that our raucous democracy holds.

With joyous Christmas music on rewind, I spent 2020’s holiday season reliving years of memories digging through countless Google search pages for idolized public officials’ emails and, more desirably, their schedulers’. In the process, I discovered thousands more and introduced myself to them with Wikipedia synopses. With stacks of spreadsheets, I drafted personalized emails and tossed them into the ocean of Gmail, analyzing which message, length, wording and even sent time yielded the most responses. While most of my personalized emails sunk, forgotten and unacknowledged, a few floated into the hands of new, palpable friends.

One was the unlikely Congressman Paul Gosar, the House’s sponsor for invalidating Arizona’s 2020 electoral votes. Prepared with pointed questions about his controversial beliefs, I begged to leave the meeting composed and not furious from a Zoom fight. Sitting in my living room at the end of the hour-long conversation reminded me that behind a (D) or (R) are people who also love eating breakfast, working out and spending time with loved ones. People may passionately disagree but must not lose the decency of respect. 

As I dream about politics now, I still visualize the thin print of CNN’s “politics.” Its beauty is brittle like the font and imperfect like its s’s. However, if America can have earnest conversations, starting with an inclusive understanding of others’ perspectives, our politics can attain beaches’ beauty, one built by time and not inherency.

At the beach, I throw myself in beds of sand. With my eyes closed, the mellow sun glows through my eyelid as I bask in its light. Protected within my palms is a pebble. Eroded after tumbling through years of honest discourse, it’s lost its ragged edges. Before I leave, I walk to the edge of reality where the water meets the half baked wet sand. I skip the pebble with a slider, as it flies back into the ocean. Maybe tomorrow, someone else will pick up that tiny stone and be reminded of its story, the story of our nation: chipped but destined to be ocean-polished.