I’ve been pondering this blog post for the past week, and after some particularly fantastic conversations with some of the forensics crowd at the Fiesta this weekend, I’ve decided it’s time to put pen to paper…
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several months and/or the landslide of worthless drivel known as popular culture, you know that last week witnessed the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy- or DADT.
The repeal of DADT warmed my heart. Yes, it was the removal of structural discrimination against a group of people who had nothing to deserve the targeting. Yes, it was a historic movement toward broader equality. If that wasn’t enough to bring me to grateful tears, I’d have questioned by humanity, but I’ll be frank- the story behind the change is what has moved me the most.
Members of the parliamentary debate circuit are well-acquainted with one Joshua Seefried. A debater at the Air Force Academy, my first encounter with him was freshman year. I didn’t know him, and I sure as hell didn’t know anything about debate yet (what’s the difference between offense and defense, again?), but from the minute he opened his mouth, I knew he was smart. I don’t remember who was on what side or who won (probably him, at that point), but I do remember the manifestation of instant respect.
I won’t pretend that I was best friends with Josh- it’s not accurate or fair to this story. We were friendly (though I can recall a few times where I’m sure he didn’t care for me too much), and those initial feelings of respect never dissipated- especially once rumbles about his sexual orientation began to pop up.
I didn’t care. I don’t really know of anyone who did. The reason the rumbles were of any consequence was because Josh was in the Air Force, and they certainly did care. I remember thinking that he was immensely brave. He was so dedicated to protecting America that he was not only willing to risk his life in battle, but his livelihood at the hands of an unjust policy.
As members of the parli community, we discussed a wide range of political, social and economic issues, and DADT was frequently included. Maybe it was just me, but those debates always made me slightly uncomfortable. I prided myself on being able to attack or defend any argument, regardless of my personal beliefs, but knowing that on one side of this debate was a good person being forced to live a lie- a good person for whom one rumor spoken too loudly could spell out the end of a career- brought the debate a little too close to home.
In 2010, the Facebook group “1,000,000 Strong for Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was born under the guidance of Citizens for Repeal- led by a group of debaters from the parliamentary circuit. Most of us on the circuit joined these groups. Citizens for Repeal became Outserve- one of the driving forces behind the repeal.
The leader here was an ambiguous JD Smith. JD had no profile picture, but was suddenly requesting the friendship of many of us. I remember, at one point, another girl on the circuit warned all of us to be wary of this “JD individual” as she couldn’t find a single person who could say they’d met him.
JD, as the world found out last week, was Josh.
Yes, this story is really cool, and yes, this repeal is monumental. We are all indebted to Josh, but even if you’re not a supporter of the movement he belongs to (in which case, you should probably read this post and then not talk to me anymore), you still owe him. Why?
Most of the people who will read this are members of the Millennial generation. We’re young, and we confuse the heck out of our predecessors. Initially, there were major concerns about our ability to be part of a workforce. Members of older generations could not wrap their heads around our social work style, confounding hours, and approach to productivity. Where they saw chaos, we saw opportunity, and have, over time, proven the results we’re capable of generating. They’re pretty impressive.
Unwilling to admit they were wrong, critics of the Millennial generation went on to question our ability to lead. Yes, we were creative, and yes, we could get things done, but could we take on greater responsibility, including the management of those below us? As time marches on, we’re seeing this play out in real time. Zuckerberg, Google’s execs… the list goes on.
However, the final frontier, in many ways, was whether or not we could lead a people. I wondered about it myself after reading an editorial (which I spent hours trying to find again, to no avail) earlier this year about a potential solution to the then all-consuming debt ceiling crisis. Their suggestion? Lock a bunch of Millennials in a room and don’t let them out until they’ve reached a solution.
It seems as though, generally speaking, Millennials are seen as idea people- solution people- without the ability to mobilize a population. Whether it was because they’d lost faith in government officials or the system as a whole was up for debate, but that perceived apathy was causing many to conclude that Millennial leadership would be lacking.
Josh, much to my delight, is proving them all wrong.
He is the first of our generation to have such a substantial impact on public policy, and he did it with seemingly effortless grace, sincerity, and integrity. He paired Millennial technological prowess with reason and persistence, and the result was explosive. He isn’t just an inspiration because of the nature of the changes he made, but because of who he is and how he did it.
I don’t know what Josh’s plans are moving forward, but he’ll forever be in my peripheral. It wouldn’t shock me to see him continuing to kick ass and take names. Josh renewed my faith, not only in humanity and our country’s ability to embrace equality, but in my generation and the future we face.
Thanks, Josh. We owe you.