Start Where You Are

By Sapna Moudgil-Shah

On November 9, 2016, after a long, anxious night, I emerged from my apartment in a state of confusion and deep concern. Manhattan, like me, was gray, gloomy, and subdued. I saw dragging feet and dazed faces all over my neighborhood. Little did we know it would only get worse.

As the days passed post-election, I felt a sort of desperation. Everything seemed so hopeless. The same phrase kept circling in my head. What can I do? What can I do? What can I do?

I was in a store one afternoon and noticed a bangle that had “Breathe” engraved on it. I was enraged. “Breathe?!” I wanted to shriek. “Why doesn’t the bangle say something actually helpful, like ‘VOTE?’”

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At that moment, I realized I could turn off the shrieking, circling voice in my head by doing something I already loved doing: making jewelry.

I eagerly pivoted my jewelry business to focus on necklaces, earrings, and bracelets with political, feminist messages. Did I think my jewelry was going to get Trump out of office? No, of course not. But it was going to give me, and many other women, talismans to clutch as we went about smashing the patriarchy. I needed something to do, something to hold on to. And I figured there were others out there like me who needed something, too.

I started following political discourse on Twitter. I began attending rallies and marches. I joined local resistance groups. I read articles and listened to podcasts. I sold my pieces online and at craft fairs, where I met like-minded women with stories to share and feelings to commiserate. And while I was busy crafting and clutching talismans, something magical happened. Somehow, in the process of making jewelry, I had created an entirely different life for myself. And I was loving every minute.

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When life’s problems seem insurmountable, it’s hard to know what to do. Many of us, myself included, suffer from “paralysis by analysis.” Unfortunately, as I have learned time and time again, you can’t just think your way to a solution. My political jewelry journey has shown me that the best way to break out of a never-ending thought cycle is to just *do* something. Anything. Pick something you like and figure out how to make it fit. By merely taking the first step of applying your known self to something new, alternate worlds of possibilities become accessible. I am now enrolled at Fordham University for a MA in Elections and Campaign Management, a future I would have never imagined a year ago. All because I took that first step.

Arthur Ashe once said, “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” As we approach the midterm of this cruel and incompetent presidency, I challenge you to take stock of your personal skill sets and interests and ask yourself: “What do I have that I can I contribute?”

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Are you good at organizing events? Perhaps you could put together fundraising evenings for a cause or bring people together to debate impactful ideas. Are you skilled at writing or public speaking? Maybe you could send letters to local officials on behalf of your community or speak at events representing issues you care about. Do you have accounting or legal experience? You could potentially volunteer to help fledging campaigns and nonprofits manage their finances or legal operations.

If we do what we can with what we have, every day we will have a little more that we can do and a little more to do it with. Over time, there’s no telling where that accumulation will take us. The possibilities are endless. So get out there! You do you, and the rest will follow.

About Sapna Moudgil-Shah

Sapna has been a crafter for as long as she can remember, and jewelry is the medium she is most passionate about. After the 2016 Presidential election, Sapna was determined to apply her creative skills towards political awareness and pivoted her jewelry business, ActivatedNYC, to focus on activism and feminist issues. To expand her impact, Sapna is now enrolled at Fordham University in NYC for an M.A. in Elections and Campaign Management and is a Manhattan Borough Director for Amplify Her, an organization supporting women running for office in NYC. She plans to use her M.A. degree, and her professional experience in leading large-scale projects and teams, to aggressively promote progressive female political candidates and advance women's rights issues in New York and across the country.

Tarul Tripathi