After eleven weeks on the road, 191 interviews, and twenty-five states, I returned home Tuesday evening. Opening the gate to my house, seeing my dog, and eating homemade food were much-needed. Peanut butter sandwiches and spending every night alone are not the most enjoyable combination!

Although I was exhausted by the end, this trip was eye-opening and inspiring. I met people of all walks of life, of all creeds, of all races and ethnicities, and of all political leanings. I saw the country, from the Great Lakes to the Rockies, from the heart of downtown Detroit to the back roads of Maurepas, Louisiana.

Our country faces many challenges ahead, but I am heartened to hear that most people are aware of them and want to face them. People know polarization is a problem. They know we’ve stopped listening. Most people I spoke with acknowledge that racism is a long and powerful truth in this country, a road block to much of our progress and something that we must address.

There were, of course, disagreements. Some want stronger borders while others welcome immigrants with open arms. Many Republicans feel that Democrats don’t respect President Trump the way a President should be respected. Many Democrats feel that started with the way Republicans talked about Barack Obama.

But ultimately, most people I talked with want to be good citizens, and believe that political party says nothing about citizenship.

I realize, though, that despite that we might say that, we don’t act on it. We don’t seek out difference and disagreement. We shout at each other and at our TV screens. We ignore news that upsets us and revel in headlines that affirm our opinions.

We can’t keep doing these things and except these problems to get better. If we want to genuinely be good citizens – not just say we are – we have to step outside of our comfort zones, read new newspapers and watch new TV channels. We need to get to know our neighbors, even if they look different from us, talk different from us, and believe different things than we do. We need to help the needy, regardless of whether we think it’s the government’s job to.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing some interviews from the trip as well as some other thoughts. I’d love to hear any ideas people have about the things they’ve read here or elsewhere. For now, though, I’m going to enjoy being home!

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Concerns about the media:

When’s the last time you read a new media source? Or a source that doesn’t promote your world view? I ask because a theme I have heard in the last week or two is that it’s hard to trust the news these days, that people are turning it off. Jon, from South Bend, said, “I never know what to trust. The inaccuracies and political bias on both sides are absurd. I’m not smart enough to know what’s true or what’s not.” Rick said that he now turns off the news. This problem wasn’t unique to Indiana. Maxwell, a student at Bowling Green State, said that he feels like the media distorts our opinions of one another.

Staying informed:

Despite people’s concerns about the media, many interviewees, especially Matthew from University of Chicago, mention the importance of “being informed.” I agree them that knowing what’s happening in our communities and country is really important to being a good citizen. We can’t take political action if we don’t know what’s happening. Serving people is harder if we don’t the problems. It’s difficult to be respectful if we don’t know what’s happening in our neighborhood. Continue reading Staying Informed

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The Roads I Knew:

When I first started driving, I feared Route 30 and I-76 more than any other roads. Route 30 is called Lancaster Avenue in Southeastern Pennsylvania. To get to any doctor’s appointment or dinner place, I would have to weave through its infinite lights and avoid its impatient suburban drivers. I-76, on the other hand, connected my hometown to downtown Philadelphia. Forever busy, it never felt like much of a highway.

Growing up, these roads both symbolized my sheltered suburban life and the path to leave the bubble, if only briefly. On my journey from Mercersburg to Pittsburgh, I traveled Route 30 and I-76 again. The places and paths they took me to and on, though, were quite different.

Continue reading Same Roads, New Places

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Washington’s Stories:

In two hours, I’ll leave Washington, D.C., and leave for my next stop: Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. The last few days have been exciting, informative, and intimidating. I had twenty-two amazing interviews, and got practice with people not wanting to speak with me. An Army officer told me about the importance of democratic values and our belief. I spoke with two members of the U.S. State Department, too, about how others perceive us. I heard about the tensions that come with being a Muslim and being an American from Idil.

Just as interestingly, I spoke with many people who don’t live their life around governments. I talked with D.J., an immigrant who believes we can all work together to build one America, and with Amber, who thinks we need to stop thinking bad citizenship is fashionable. If nothing else, I feel more confident now that my work is worth doing. I am more confident now than five days ago that our citizens’ stories are worth telling.

Its Silences:

But the last few days weren’t only about people’s stories. I watched a video in the U.S. Capitol about how out of many people and beliefs, we are one (E Pluribus Unum). And I walked around the National Mall, looking at the statues and buildings that honor our founders and values. Yesterday, I also was able to attend the National Book Fair and think about the books that make us Americans. While there, I sat in on a panel about immigration literature and thought about the balance between assimilating and preserving one’s previous culture.

These moments when I wasn’t interviewing people provided me space to think about my work and our country. I think, more than anything, my time in Washington showed me that there are many ways to be an American. Likewise, there are a lot of types of good citizens. Now, my work is to figure out the exact ways we can be good citizens, and the key things all Americans share. I’m scared to leave a city I know for parts of the country I’ve never been to. But I know what I will find in new places is even more important than what I found in familiar ones.

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