What’s Her Secret: Author Lauren Duca On Getting Political

As a student, Lauren Duca knew she wanted to be a writer. When she landed her first journalism gig, she loved writing about pop culture, celebrities, feminism, cultural hierarchies, and dabbled a little bit in topics that were “lower-case-p political.” But on November 9, 2016, everything changed. As many other millennials can attest, nothing sparks politicization quite like the election of someone like Donald Trump. Now, the Brooklyn-based 28-year-old is an award-winning journalist, a social media activist, and the author of a brand-new book: How to Start A Revolution: Young People and the Future of American Politics. The book is a rallying cry for young people to get involved in politics, go out and vote, and make the shift from political alienation to political participation.

Read on for my conversation with Lauren, as she walks us through her career path, her insight on how millennials can get involved in their local communities, and what feminists should be focussed on moving forward.

How did you get to where you are today? Can you walk us through your education and career path?
When I first started college at Fordham in 2009, all I knew is that I wanted to write. Working for the school paper, I found my voice doing a mix of personal narrative and cultural reporting. After writing about early experiences discovering feminism, I knew I needed to write about things that were true. My career began in earnest when I was offered a fellowship at the Huffington Post working for their celebrity section. From the start, I insisted it was possible serious and important writing in the context of and alongside all sorts of entertainment coverage. I eventually went freelance, pursuing my former dream of being known as a “pop culture anthropologist.” In long-form essays and profiles, my goal was to use cultural objects to empower society with information about who we are and how we move through the world. My work was lower-case-p political in the sense that it dealt in cultural hierarchies, but it wasn’t until Donald Trump’s election that I clicked into the sense of agency that compelled me to tackle the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy as it overlays on the U.S. government, and, indeed, all global industrial complexes. On November 9th, 2016, everything changed.

Congrats on your new book, “How to Start a Revolution”! Tell us what it’s about, and what inspired you to write it.
How to Start a Revolution is a journalistic snapshot of the post-Trump political awakening that builds to a call-to-action for constant democratic citizenship. I think a lot of political writing can be inaccessible and/or just really boring. It’s important to me that my work is empowering and entertaining.

It all started for me on November 9th, 2016, when I woke up to an urgent sense of agency. Previously, I understood democracy in the abstract, as if it was a historical achievement that would endlessly perpetuate itself, sort of like a self-cleaning litter box. The morning that Donald Trump won the election, I sat up in bed and thought, “Holy shit, I have to do something about this.”

I suspected I was far from alone in that epiphany moment. I’m a journalist, so I instinctively started talking people who had undergone a political awakening after the 2016 election. I quickly found I was far from alone. For the better part of the past three years, I have toured the country talking to young people who have undergone this shift. How to Start a Revolution is the story of what is changing and a plan to create a sustainable movement of personal agency. I really believe this book can empower millions of young people to get involved in the political process.

Why do you think this book will resonate with readers right now particularly, given the political climate?
I think How to Start a Revolution will resonate with readers because we need a fucking change. It’s time for each of us to stand up and reject the script of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. For too long, we have been told this unjust hierarchy is “just the way things are.” Our lives are encoded in bizarre secret rules that grant automatic authority to wealthy white men, and we can’t just stomach that reality any longer. Equitable public power is the only reasonable guiding mitigation for the collective. I hope this book can help lay the foundation for us to build true democracy together.

In your article for Teen Vogue titled “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America,” you wrote: “Donald Trump is our president now; it’s time to wake up.” From what you’ve seen, has Trump’s presidency caused enough young people to “wake up” and get involved in politics?
The political awakening can happen at any time for all kinds of reasons. It’s not just about Trump. Before the 2016 election, many people saw the overlying structural inequalities through the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and there was another wave following Trump’s election with the rise of the #MeToo movement. Seeing the systems of oppression that define our lives demands urgent personal responsibility. This is the transformation unfolding now.

The way the political awakening happened after Trump’s election is especially significant, because rarely do such huge swathes of people click into self-determination all at once. My book documents this shift, in terms of exceptional outliers — I interviewed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez two weeks before she won the primary election, and Parkland students David and Lauren Hogg, after they had fought to ushered in a sea change on gun reform — but also at demographic scale. There are all different levels of the shift in engagement, some students who never felt compelled to follow the news suddenly feeling responsible to stay informed, others totally changed the shape of their lives, volunteering for campaigns, or running for office themselves. The shift is about moving from passively navigating this bullshit system to actively seeking the equitable future we all deserve.

How do you think young people can get involved in politics?
First of all, register and vote, make sure all of your friends are registered and voting, rinse and repeat. Voting is essential, but it’s just the most basic, transactional mode of citizenship. Beyond that, choose the daily democratic rituals that speak to you. What are they things you’re good at? What are the things you care about? Maybe you make a plan to start regularly taking civic action. Maybe that means contacting elected officials, donating, or volunteering. Not everyone is going to march, and not everyone is going to run for office, but you have to do something. Pick the activities that work for you, and incorporate citizenship into your daily schedule, just like exercise or brushing your teeth. Democracy is not a thing we have, it is a thing we DO.

Why do you think it’s particularly important that millennial women are politically active? Which issues do you think that, as feminists, we should be particularly focused on moving forward?
It’s particularly important that every person with a fully functioning frontal cortex is politically active, but young women are specifically boxed out of the conversation. I saw this with stunning clarity after I wrote “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America” for Teen Vogue. The article went massively viral, provoking a patronizing conversation about whether or not young women care about politics. I think that’s a bullshit question. The real problem is the ways in which the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy overlays on the political hierarchy, boxing out all but the mostly wealthy white men ensnared in moneyed interests.

As feminists we should be focused on reproductive rights, but also the climate crisis, racial injustice, and LGBTQ equality. All of those are feminist issues. Overall, by accruing the collective power that comes from the additive impact of our individual action, we can build equitable public power, and that’s the ultimate feminist mission.

Politics can become divisive among so many families. As someone with Trump-voting parents, can you share any insight on negotiating these differences in opinion?
I was raised to believe that it is impolite to talk about politics, but that’s a bunch of nonsense. Democracy is about building consensus from debate. We have to be able to better endure the discomfort of difficult conversations.

In all communication, I would urge you to conduct yourself as a journalist. Come to everything you share — in real life and online — with an utmost allegiance to truth, committed to empowering people with information. And if there is someone in your life that you think you can reach with compassion and honesty, that difficult conversation is worth the effort. Think of it as an act of love, not only for that individual but for the collective.

As a tool, social media can be a vortex of procrastination or food for comparison, but on the other hand, it can be used for so much good. What are your tips on using social media as a tool for social activism?
Social media can definitely be a brain dungeon, but it can also empower democracy, allowing for information to spread without the permission of gatekeepers. The most crucial part of using social media as a tool for activism is to be demonstrative not performative. Always try to connect your strongest opinions to concrete action items, like donating, protesting, or contacting elected officials. Raising your voice as a citizen of democracy must be about more than just literally speaking up.

How do you deal with Twitter trolls and online sexism?
When I got my first round of death and rape threats after appearing on Fox News with Tucker Carlson, I was overwhelmed by the ugliness. I wanted to pretend it didn’t affect me, but that simply wasn’t true. I have had to admit that harassment takes a toll. It requires time and energy to process both security threats and insults. It’s been really important for me to look at all the sadness and anger the hatred has caused me, and, in the face of those painful emotions, to insist on perseverance. In the end, I have come to understand that the goal of all harassment is to get the victim to shut up, and that is precisely how I have determined to keep going: by standing strong in the understanding that raising my voice is a righteous act.

For your book, you interview fascinating change makers, from the famous to the unknown. What is something that you learned that surprised you or challenged or changed your way of thinking?
One of the most crucial things I leaned is that we need to think beyond the binary of wins and losses; politics is not a game. It tends to be the case that only successful campaigns are regarded as significant, but that totally ignores the total impact of everyone engaged throughout the effort to be elected. Getting constituents invested in the political process matters, and voter outreach can have lasting impact well after Election Day, especially at the local level. Running for office can invigorate the health of democracy regardless of the final outcome, and that ought to be the ultimate goal of all civic projects.

What’s your advice to aspiring writers/activists?
Tell the word “aspiring” to fuck off, and decide you are qualified right now. If not, go out and get the tools you’re missing. I’m often asked for writing advice from students who have yet to start writing outside of their school assignments. No one is going to come around and knight you, and that’s doubly true if you’re a young woman and/or person of color. You are what you do, so set your sights on your goal, and start doing the damn thing.

Is there anything else you wanted to discuss that we didn’t already cover?
I suppose this is the part where I have to say: Please read my book! In all earnestness, I believe How to Start a Revolution can lay the foundation of agency needed to get millions of people invested in the political process. If you’re into that, please check it out, and if you like what you find, I hope you will share it far and wide. Keep on keepin’ on!

Tags: interview, top story, topstory, what's her secret?

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