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The past month has been a whirlwind of political events. It started with the insurgence at the U.S. Capitol which left many feeling uneasy about the inauguration. Then, on January 20, Joe Biden became the 46th president of the United States.

Ark Valley Voice spoke with Salida High School Junior, Vander Ritchie, officially part of what is known as Gen Z, on his thoughts surrounding the insurrection, the inauguration and his views on politics as a young person.

“It was a pretty strange experience for me,” Ritchie explained, talking about his thoughts in regard to the insurrection that occurred at the Capitol. “That day, it felt like the culmination of what had been four years of conflict.”

Ritchie had taken the day off from in-person classes on account of feeling under the weather. He thought that he would get more work done from home. He had earlier written a piece in the Salida High School Tenderfoot Times about the Georgia Senate runoffs.

On the same day the election results were to be made official, and as soon as the results were declared, Ritchie planned to post it on the school website. “As I was waiting for those results to come out, I got the notification that there was a storming of the Capitol.”

“I was watching all of these news stations and all of them were acting really surprised. I wasn’t. I remember on election day and after election day I was pretty decently scared. I actually also stayed home from school because I was worried that something might happen to me after the results of the election came out, especially as someone who’s pretty outspoken but also someone who is a minority in some aspects in terms of running the [Gay-Straight Alliance Network] GSA and having an immigrant family.”

“As the day kept going on, as the weeks have passed, the days have passed [since the election], the hours, it became really a feeling not of surprise, not necessarily of being scared, although I was both of those. There were many things that surprised me, seeing people storm into Nancy Pelosi’s office, seeing someone sit in the chair of the president of the Senate. It was surprising and of course I was scared.”

Image by Mike Theiler Courtesy of Reuters.

“I remember getting the gun that my family has out of the closet because I was home alone and wanted to have it in case something around here happened, especially with the reports of the Chaffee County Patriots. As the time went on and as things de-escalated it really became a response of sadness and of disgust.”

“The symbol that has just constantly rattled around in my brain over and over is that image of the Confederate flag being flown inside the Capitol. I think its super symbolic of what had happened. These were a group of traitors that we allowed to infiltrate the most basic and most secure parts of our government. Unlike anything that had really happened since Andrew Johnson and the democrats during the Civil War and Reconstruction.”

Ritchie went on to explain how the topic of the insurrection was handled in his classes. Every class discussed what happened. “Those conversations were extremely hard. What I remember most is my teacher Amy Moore talking about trying to talk to her kid about it and how difficult that was.”

The conversations are difficult because of the reality that events like this — and events throughout the lifetime of a lot of kids who are in high school now  — have conditioned them.

“Living and growing up in post 9/11 America and really coming of age for a lot of us, really starting to mature during the financial crisis during 2008, have kind of have plagued us ever since. And now having coronavirus and this, more than ever it feels like there is a sense, even amongst my conservative classmates, of despair.”

“It’s this culmination of so many bad events that have happened to us in succession during this period of immense growth and being so impressionable,” he continued. “Those have really just fostered an attitude of everything being wrong and not having any idea of how to fix it at all. Just feeling that things are getting worse and worse. That’s the majority of the tone that surrounded those discussions on the next day [after Jan. 6].”

Ritchie went on to reflect on the actions and how they reminded him of what he’s read about 1968 and the progressive groups; specifically young activists trying to find political traction. “That kind of being shot down and them still having to live with the consequences of this terrible world and feeling like their one political way to fix things had been taken away. For them it was the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and for us it was Joe Biden winning the presidential primaries. It was something amongst teenagers that was really disappointing for a lot of those young progressive people. It felt like even in this time of everything being horrible and just this feeling of hopelessness, there was this beacon of hope that in the end, it just couldn’t happen.”

Ritchie then explained watching the inauguration. “It was surreal. Especially watching him sit in the Oval Office, watching Jen Psaki (White House Press Secretary) doing her first press briefing. It was surreal because basically for the entirety of my politically active life, Donald Trump has been president. I didn’t really know much about politics up until the 2016 election. It has just been the world becoming clearer to me.”

Biden taking the oath of office as our 46th President, Jan. 20, 2021. Photo courtesy of Time Magazine.

“I felt a lot of whiplash watching a lot of the inauguration. There were some parts of it that made me feel really hopeful, that really made my heart feel good. Of course, there was this feeling of seeing Mike Pence leave the White House for the last time and watching the video of Donald and Melania Trump getting on Marine One for the last time. That was super hopeful.”

“Watching the [first national youth] poet laureate (Amanda Gorman) and she was wonderful, and her poem was so heartfelt and so emotional that it really touched my soul. Listening to Reverend Beaman’s benediction was super special and heartwarming to me. It made me feel not only hope but it made me feel like I hadn’t necessarily lost. Both of them reminded me that there’s this idea of struggle being constant, and that struggle is really what precedes progress.”

Richie points out that many young progressive people feel as though their voices were lost with the election of President Biden. There is a lot of distrust for the Democrats coupled with the idea that there will not be much progressive movement in the coming four years.

Lincoln Memorial. Photo by Jan Wondra.

“There’s so much that I feel like I can hope for. There is a strong left-wing movement that is growing,” explained Ritchie. “Back ten years ago we had Barbra Lee in the House, and we had Bernie Sanders in the Senate. That was basically it in terms of Obama-type Democrats but now we’ve got a growing list of 20 or some people in the House and five or six different senators who really feel like they represent those ideas, which is super heartwarming to see that this movement that has been active in America since Abraham Lincoln. Finally, for the first time in the entire history of the United States they’re getting at least somewhat electorally viable.”

“The Black Lives Matter movement and the civil rights movements that we are seeing right now, which really mirror what was happening in the 1960’s, I don’t think that it could be any more important than it is now. We still have such a long legacy and a long history of racism that is nowhere near its completion and I think that what really needs to happen is a propagation of radical ideas.”

By this he says, he means that politicians make choices that may not be the most “popular” but are the right choices from a human rights standpoint.

“What has given me hope over the past month is seeing young people actually take action. I think it is an unequivocal good how involved we are. We have had, for such a long time, such a low voter turnout rate, like 60 percent of the country and I think we’re quickly going to see that change because I would say the majority of teenagers are not only politically active but extremely so. They’re active in not only knowing what candidates are, but multiple positions and ideological names. It has made me so unbelievably hopeful to see young people become and stay involved politically.”