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Election week is a week of choices.
Different versions of our future present themselves with uncharacteristic clarity. One voting lever summons one path, another triggers something different. Elections compress the uncertainty and chaos of everyday life into a constellation of impossibly discrete points of light.
Yet the choices that precede freedom are far more frequent and require far more courage than quadrennial electoral rhetoric suggests. It's not elections every four years that provide our freedom -- it's the choices we face every day: how we speak up, how we show up, how we struggle to belong to each other.
Unlike elections, no one tells us how or when to make these kinds of choices -- they come without solicitous phone calls or TV ads. There is no day marked on the calendar. One seldom receives a sticker for making choices that require conviction. One may, in fact, receive the opposite -- wrath, skepticism and disapproval from others.
Take, for example, Megan Rapinoe, midfielder for the U.S. women's national soccer team. Rapinoe took note of the eerie political alchemy that transformed when San Francisco 49er's Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel during the national anthem.
"I'm disgusted w/way Colin has been treated & the fans & hatred he has received in all of this [sic]," Rapinoe tweeted. "It is overtly racist. 'Stay in ur [sic] place black man.' Just didn't feel right to me. It needs to be everyone confronting problems in our country, not just people of color."
She realized Kaepernick could not face this alone and decided to kneel during the national anthem in solidarity with him. Her job, like Kaepernick's, became threatened.
Yet, despite professional blowback, including consternation by her teammates, Rapinoe has continued to kneel. Her decision isn't about her identity. It isn't about Kaepernick's identity. She kneeled -- just as Kaepernick did -- for one simple reason: we belong to each other.
We cannot stand for a world in which some people's lives are continually made invisible, denigrated, humiliated, endangered for their existence.
And we don't have to wait every four years to make choices about how to build that world into existence -- we can make a different future for ourselves even when there is no election by speaking up and standing up, like Rapinoe and Kaepernick have done.
James Baldwin said that to ignore what is happening in one's own backyard was "the great device of whiteness."
My whiteness and Kaepernick's blackness, in fact, depend on one another. My liberation belongs with his; his freedom belongs with mine. Kaepernick took a stand. Rapinoe took a stand. And by doing so, they -- like many others -- takes steps toward a future that values the ways our lives are connected to one another.
These kind of choices are all around us, every day, regardless of election season. They are available to us on the football field and the locker room, this week and next, no matter who wins or who loses the election. Rapinoe and Kaepernick gives us courage to speak up for each other. They give us examples of choices and actions that remind us how we are connected. They give us a vision for how to use our voices and our bodies to build a world wide enough for all of us.
The light they offer us has doesn't depend on elections. It depends on our choices to speak up for one another.
Eleni Schirmer is a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's department of Educational Policy Studies and Curriculum and Instruction, where she studies social movements and education. Her writing has appeared in Jacobin, The Progressive, Labor Notes and Education Review.