For Holocaust Remembrance Day, I Watched a Friend Fall for QAnon and into Anti-Semitism

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of when Auschwitz was liberated and the horror of the Holocaust began to truly reveal itself to the world.

Instead of sharing the usual photos of emaciated bodies behind barbed wire and spouting #NeverForget hashtags, I want to offer a personal story—one that’s much more recent and might hit some nerves. However, I think this is a better way to truly honor the meaning of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The story is about a conspiracy theory that became an international superstar in 2020: QAnon. What does QAnon have to do with Holocaust Remembrance, you might wonder? I’ll tell you: I’m Jewish, and I watched an old high school friend get sucked into the spiral of QAnon until she began spouting anti-Semitic propaganda on Facebook, all in the name of Q.

QAnon and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Have you ever heard of Genocide Watch? It’s an international non-profit that seeks “to predict, prevent, stop, and punish genocide and other forms of mass murder.” Genocide Watch was founded in 1999 by Dr. Gregory H. Stanton, former research professor in genocide studies and prevention at George Mason University. He also served in the U.S. State Department and drafted the United Nations Security Council resolutions to prosecute genocide in Rwanda.

Dr. Stanton wrote an article on Genocide Watch called, “QAnon is a Nazi cult, rebranded.” In the article, he compares the conspiracy theories of QAnon—a secret, Satanic cabal is taking over the world that kidnaps and smuggles children, controls the media, and has infiltrated high governmental positions of power—to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The similarities are strikingly and eerily similar.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the most notorious and widely distributed antisemitic publication of modern times. Its lies about Jews, which have been repeatedly discredited, continue to circulate today, especially on the internet.”

Essentially, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion postures (falsely, of course) that Jews “made plans to disrupt Christian civilization and erect a world state under their joint rule,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica. “Liberalism and socialism were to be the means of subverting Christendom; if subversion failed, all the capitals of Europe were to be sabotaged.”

The Protocols go on to explain, in detail, how Jews kidnap Christian children and use their blood to make Matzo that they eat during Passover. They claim that Jews forged a deep-state-like cabal to take over and control the world.

The Nazi regime revived and used many of the conspiracy theories purported by the Protocols to spread anti-Semitic propaganda throughout Germany, leading many Germans to believe they needed to rid their country of Jews to protect themselves and their way of life.

My Old High School Friend and QAnon

I first learned about QAnon by accident, around the time of the 2020 Superbowl. Do you remember that awesome halftime show performance by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira? I was dancing all over my living room watching them.

But soon after, I started seeing odd comments pop up on news threads about how disgusting their performance was, and how their dancing was Satanic. I even saw people calling them pedophiles.

Then, my former friend—let’s call her Jane (this is not her real name)—shared a similar sentiment on her Facebook page, followed by a cryptic acronym, “WWG1WWA.” Curious, I Googled this acronym and the QAnon conspiracy popped up, with the saying, “Where We Go One, We Go All.”

I later learned this was the saying of Q followers, and I began researching more about these weird conspiracy theories. I found them fantastical and wrote them off as fringe. “If someone wants to believe that, let them believe it,” I thought to myself.

Jane and I used to hang out with some of the same people in high school. She dated a close male friend of mine. When I was going to college in Flagstaff, my male friend and Jane would drive up to visit me, especially while I was going through a breakup.

I knew Jane had a rough childhood and struggled with some mental health issues, and so as I watched her begin posting more and more memes from QAnon, I passed them over without a thought. The Q-labeled memes talked about how Bill Gates was trying to control the world through vaccines, or how “sources” confirmed Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey were pedophiles trafficking children in secret, underground rings. Sometimes, she would post angry memes against the mainstream media, which bothered me because I used to be a journalist.

However, as the COVID pandemic spread and lockdowns became rampant, I watched her escalate. She began sharing QAnon memes about how COVID was a hoax, how it was an excuse for the socialist deep-state to seize control of its people, or how it was a cover led by then-President Donald Trump to rescue trafficked children from the Satan-worshipping cabal of Democrats and Hollywood elites.

And then one day, she shared a QAnon-labeled post from Instagram claiming that McDonalds collaborated with Jews who kidnap Christian children to drain their blood and use it in the Matzo of their Passover bread. She wrote how she was glad she no longer ate at the evil McDonalds.

My heart dropped, and then, the rage followed. Jane had known me since high school. I had offered to help her through some difficult times in life, and all the while, she’d always known I was Jewish. I immediately commented on her post and called out the anti-Semitism. I told her if she didn’t correct that action, we could no longer be friends.

I gave her a week, but Jane never responded to me. No comments. No apologies. No outreach. And the post remained up. I unfriended her and we have not spoken since.

The Fear of Losing Others to QAnon

A friend of mine is Muslim and a survivor of the Bosnian War. She told me that when the genocide happened, it was her childhood friends and their families who turned the guns on her.

For the first time in my life, I can understand the psychology of how hatred against Jews spread in Nazi Germany. People didn’t hate Jews from one day to the next. They slowly turned against them after years and years of hateful conspiracy theories that convinced the German people how Jews, communists, and other “enemies of the state” were plotting against them and their way of life. I now see how even old friends can be convinced to turn against me, by no fault of my own.

Replace “Jews” with any other scapegoated group: undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, Native Americans, black people, Muslims, the mainstream media—and you can see how the QAnon conspiracies stoke fear in any minority group.

I don’t want to see other friends or connections fall prey to this ideology. It leads to radicalization, as we can see from the insurrection at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

For International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I want to call out modern-day hatred when I see it. I want to label it plainly and directly, leaving no excuse to enable it. Yes, from my research, I do agree with Dr. Stanton and Genocide Watch that QAnon is Nazi ideology, revived and re-branded. I sternly denounce it. Will you join me?

On a final note, did you know that Genocide Watch listed the United States on its watch page for North America? Mexico is also listed, but not Canada. Yet the United States of America made it to Genocide Watch’s list.

Think about that.

Day After #BlackOutTuesday: Dedicating Time to Reading Black Fiction Authors

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Well, here we are, a day after #BlackOutTuesday. I feel like America went through one giant self-awareness “aha” moment during a difficult therapy session. And now we’re all trying to figure out how to change things for the better. It’s hopeful.

I am certainly no one to lecture, and hell, this fight is nothing new. People of color have been screaming about it for generations. All I’m doing now is trying to join as a support and ally. I’m learning what it means to be anti-racist (admittedly, a new term I learned yesterday).

#BlackOutTuesday gave me a lot to think about. I’m Jewish, so I understand on a certain level what dealing with prejudice is like, because yes, I’ve dealt with anti-Semitism. I also know what it feels like to have my non-Jewish friends stand up for me and show solidarity, and it feels pretty damn good. 

But I’m also ridiculously white, like “spend five minutes in the sun and turn into a tomato” white. Which means I benefit from white privilege, because when I walk into a store, or get pulled over by the cops, or go for an evening walk in my neighborhood, people don’t see a “Jewish woman.” They see a “white woman.” For this reason, my friends who are people of color live a different experience than me.

Yesterday, I learned just how different.

And it made me cry. My heart bled for some of the experiences my friends shared with me. I have not found it in myself to watch the video of George Floyd’s death, because the images alone are traumatizing to me. I know his last word. His poor mother.

I realized that because I have the luxury of turning off the news and tuning out the injustice for a bit means that I benefit from white privilege. Because those who don’t benefit cannot just turn off the news. This is their reality.

So now, what will I do about this new realization?

Read. That’s what I’ve decided to do. Read. And LISTEN. And LEARN. I know some stuff, but not nearly enough.

I’ve made a personal commitment to begin choosing fiction books to read by black American authors about the authentic black experience in America. Usually, I choose books to read based on the plot or writing. This time, I’m making a conscious decision to choose based on the author, because nothing transports me into another pair of shoes like reading a strong fiction novel.

And on my blog here, I’ll be reviewing these books. I’ll promote their authors. I’ll talk about what I learned, and will simply share my journey.

I’m currently reading an ARC of a new book releasing in early July, so after I finish that, I’ll begin this new path. I invite you to follow my blog if you want to learn with me, and together, we can work toward creating a more empathetic world, a more just world, a more inclusive world, and a safer world for EVERYONE.

White People, Reach Out to Your Black Friends Right Now

Me in California this summer

This picture above, this is me: a white woman in America. And this post is to other white people in the country we all call home. Because, white people, we have a responsibility to our neighbors of color in this very moment, and we cannot let that responsibility fall away.

White people, I urge you to reach out to your black friends right now and ask them if they are doing OK. Ask them how you can support them. And then be ready to listen. REALLY LISTEN.

You might hear things that challenge you. That’s OK. You might hear things that make you uncomfortable. That’s OK. You might hear things that make you cry. That’s OK.

I just had a deep conversation with a dear friend who is black this morning, and she challenged me. She helped me understand context in a more profound way, and how her daily experience differs so drastically from mine. My privilege is real, and our conversation of love reflected it back to me. I could not hide from it. I needed to hear these things, because only then can I acknowledge how concrete racism still is in our country.

What we’re seeing in the news today—the riots and protests and calls for justice for George Floyd—this goes far beyond the justified anger against and fear of today’s police (some of whom support the calls for justice, too, and some of them are my friends).

This goes back generations.

And while we ALL need breaks from the news and the world and life, we cannot keep burying our heads in the sand if we want to come out of this a changed nation for the better. I believe we can unite as one again, but that will only start if we listen, truly listen.

White people, reach out to your black friends right now. They need to hear from us.

4 Ways to Tell if Information is Real or Fake: Advice from a Former Journalist

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Photo by Aditya Doshi,, https://www.flickr.com/photos/avdoshi/8612921803

When I was a daily newspaper reporter, I always had to navigate through multiple versions of a story before I learned what really happened.

We have a saying in journalism. It goes, “There are three sides to every story: side one, side two, and the Truth.”

The Truth usually falls somewhere between the first two sides, and when I reported the Truth, both sides frequently accused me of bias. That’s how I knew I’d done my job.

In today’s age of information overflow, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are reading multiple stories and don’t know what to believe. This is causing rampant fear, confusion, and possibly poor decision-making.

When I shared some of the truth-finding strategies I used as a journalist with a dear friend after we discussed the Plandemic movie, she encouraged me to share my tips with the world. “Not many people know this stuff, Shari,” she told me. “Not everyone has a journalism degree, and I think these tips could really help a lot of people in today’s environment.”

So here I am, in hopes that I can help YOU navigate through the waves of information (and misinformation), thus landing on the Truth for yourself. Here are some of the basic building blocks that journalists use when investigating a story and getting down to the bottom of it:

1) Cross-Validation with Multiple Sources

Information should always be validated with a minimum of three independent sources to confirm its validity. As a journalist, you can never go with just one person’s story or perspective, no matter how viable it seems. You need to follow up and interview at least two more sources, check records or documents, and see if everything else backs up the story from your first source.

2) Attribution from Reputable, Primary Sources

Today, the moment I read an article, column, or blog post–or watch a video–where information is stated without citing a reputable and primary source, my radar goes off. THIS MIGHT BE FAKE!

In order to avoid slander and libel lawsuits, reporters must cite their sources. Otherwise, anyone can make any claim and it would be considered truth. Additionally, the sources must be:

  • Reputable. This means you cannot cite a psychic when making claims about a medical condition or the state of the economy. Instead, you would cite a doctor or an economist.
  • Primary. This means you cannot cite another article as your source, or a friend of the cousin who experienced the wrongdoing; the information needs to come directly from the person or entity.

3) Libel — The Accused are Given a Chance to Comment

How often have you read an article from Reuters or the Associated Press where it says, “_____ could not be reached for comment”? Reporters do this to avoid a libel lawsuit. They give the person or entity being accused of wrongdoing the opportunity to comment publicly before running the story. This is a common practice to remain within the bounds of law and avoid defamation, and any reputable news organization will follow it.

4) An Ulterior Motive or Agenda

People will try and use the media to push an agenda. Gee, ya don’t say?! But by this, I mean sometimes, a person has a beef with another person or entity, and his/her motivation for contacting the media is to “get back” at someone or something else (this is different than a legitimate whistleblower). Other times, a public relations representative is trying to sway public opinion in favor of his/her company, or a public policy that would benefit the company (lobbyists, anyone?).

As a reporter, I always had to be wary of someone’s motivation for contacting me with a potential story. This is also why cross-validation with multiple sources is so important in a balanced and well-researched news article.

The Bottom Line

I hope these basic journalism tips help you determine what’s correct and incorrect from all the information floating around the Internet and social media these days.

Remember: the intentional spread of misinformation can be just as dangerous as censorship.

(Shameless plug here: that’s a theme in my book!)

Don’t let yourself become a victim of misinformation. Keep your head on straight. I always tell people that facts drive journalism, while emotions drive propaganda.

If you found this helpful, I urge you to please share it with your friends and family!

Shari Lopatin headshot

 

*Shari Lopatin is a former award-winning journalist, mass communications professional, and author of “The Apollo Illusion,” a science fiction dystopia about a future society’s frightening overdependence on technology. 

 

Why I’m Cutting Back on Social Media as an Indie Author

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This is me on a hike with my boyfriend months after getting sick.

A week before Christmas in 2018, a virus attacked my brain stem.

Technically, it was my vestibular nerve, which is responsible for communication between the eyes, inner ears, and brain. The condition is called vestibular neuritis (yes, you can Google it).

The result of this random, weird sickness was the world wouldn’t stop spinning and the horizon constantly quivered like riding a Shake Shack. I couldn’t drive, walk, read, cook, sit in a chair at a table, look at a phone or computer screen–and worst of all, I couldn’t write or work.

I took family medical leave for two months before I could return to my full-time job. And when I started coming back to life, I realized something:

Social media was giving me anxiety.

Which is kinda a conundrum, since I’ve worked as a social media manager. And I’m an indie author, and we rely on social media to help sell books. Nonetheless, every time I jumped onto Facebook, I no longer saw my friends having a fun hike or taking a family trip to Northern Arizona.

I saw activities I could no longer do and feared I would never be able to do again.

So I Decided to Quit Facebook for a Month

I also cut back on Instagram; same with Twitter (to be fair, I stopped using Twitter regularly a year ago).

Slowly, I found myself concentrating inwardly again: on my emotions, on my relationships with close friends, family, and my boyfriend. Life became a constant state of meditation, reflection, and observation as I worked to reduce the immense anxiety that consumed me during the recovery stages of this awful sickness.

And I found myself living in the moment more.

The Science Backs Up My Feelings, Too

Today, I’m slowly working some social media back into my life, but I like the way I feel when it’s not a dominant factor. I also realized that I value my privacy. I don’t mind sharing certain personal stories (like this one), but I want to control how much of my life is discussed publicly.

Maybe my subconscious knew these things years ago, when I wrote the first draft of my debut novel, The Apollo Illusionabout a future society’s frightening overdependence on technology.

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Either way, even though I might need social media to help promote my book, I’ll be more conscious of how much I’m using it in the future. I like feeling better. Don’t you?

Men: If you’re worried about women falsely accusing you of rape, work to change the culture

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There are a lot of good men out there.

  • My father, the retired elementary school teacher and feminist.
  • My boyfriend, the protective son of a single mother.
  • My former bosses and colleagues, who mentored and shaped me as a professional.

With the current political climate involving Kavanaugh and #MeToo, some men are concerned that coercive or vindictive women will weaponize this rightful movement to falsely accuse them of rape or sexual assault. Out of spite, or revenge, or anger.

I believe it.

I’ve been bullied by other women–groups of girls growing up, and later in the workplace. I once even had to file a harassment grievance against a female coworker. And guys, I’M A GIRL.

Yes, women can be vindictive, and I have no doubt some would be willing to wield today’s social power to “get back” at a perceived wrong (Rejected? Looked over for a promotion?). But does that mean we should continue blaming victims?

Here’s the problem.

For far too long, women have been doubted when they came forward. Law enforcement asking if they were drinking (what about the GUYS who were drinking? They get a pass?).

Society asking if their clothes were too revealing. Or if they were walking alone. Or if they put themselves in a dangerous situation.

ALWAYS THE WOMAN’S FAULT.

This culture, in turn, has created a society where women are frequently scared to come forward. When they do, doubt is often cast over their testimony. We then ask, “Is He innocent? Or is She a victim?”

By regularly blaming the victim or doubting her story, we’ve created a societal culture of hearsay. As long as this culture exists, women will fear being attacked, and men will fear false accusations.

The solution: change the culture (and men need to lead the way).

My message to all men who are genuinely fearful of false accusations is this: rather than complaining about it, begin leading the change in our society.

Start believing women. Start standing up for them. Start giving women the benefit of the doubt when they confess a dark, long-held secret to you. And then, advocate for them.

Women are screaming in America right now because we’ve been silenced for way too long. We’ve been scared for way too long. We’re fed up. The men in power who refused to listen to us will not start now.

But maybe, just maybe, they will listen to you–another man. 

None of us want to live in a country reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, where accusations are brought against another without evidence, and innocent people die without proof of their crime.

But we cannot live in a Crucible-free world when the guilty are regularly protected by the powerful. Only after our culture changes, and women feel safe coming forward early on (when their testimony can make a difference in criminal court), can we begin to charge the guilty, and protect the innocent.

So men, we are watching. We are waiting. We want you to join us, so ALL of us can feel safe in our homes, in our lives, and in our society.

* Thanks for stopping by. My name is Shari Lopatin, and I tell stories that matter. After beginning my career as an award-winning journalist, I recently published my debut novel, The Apollo Illusion. If you liked what you read, consider signing up for my Readers Club email list!

 

 

Journalists Just Want to Tell Stories. Today, Some Died for It

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I used to be a reporter at a small daily, community newspaper like the Capital Gazette. We had maybe 14 reporters, and we were like family.

I couldn’t imagine living through a shooting with that family, watching some of them die. Today, I cry with the reporters and staff at the Capital Gazette.

We don’t know the motive behind the crime yet. We don’t know if the alleged shooter was a disgruntled worker, a terrorist (foreign or domestic), or the crazed spouse of an employee. The police did say the suspect mutilated his fingertips to avoid identification, as reported in this article from the Baltimore Sunso that leads me to believe this was planned and malicious (versus a potentially angry worker).

Regardless, I know one thing for sure: journalists just want to tell stories, and today, some died for it.

*** When I was a full-time reporter, this was never a fear of mine. ***

But things have changed, and it breaks my heart. For those who don’t know any reporters personally, let me explain a few things:

  • Most reporters are completely non-violent people and just want to find the truth.
  • Most reporters are empathetic storytellers who want to give a voice to the voiceless.
  • Most reporters believe in nothing more than freedom of speech and the press–more than politics and more than religion.
  • Most reporters are “crusaders” who believe in the mission of holding those in power accountable, and protecting the innocent.

I once thanked an active-duty Soldier for his service to our country, and he said to me, “Shari, thank YOU for your service. Not enough people say it, but as a journalist, you’re serving too. Thank you.”

I cried.

 

 

4 Ways YOU Can Avoid Russian Influence in the Next U.S. Election

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As a former newspaper reporter, and with the recent 13 indictments of Russian nationals who infiltrated our political system during the 2016 U.S. elections, I’d like to offer some advice on how YOU can personally avoid Russian influence during the 2018 U.S. mid-terms. In case you haven’t heard, the FBI warned they would most likely attempt interference again.

I am offering this guide based on knowledge I obtained from my college degree (journalism), as well as my past profession in the same field. My goal is to help U.S. voters come together, whether liberal or conservative, and ensure our political process is truly OURS. I do encourage you to share this post if you find it helpful.

1) Beware of Political Memes (the new propaganda)

First of all, whether you lean right or left, DO NOT SHARE POLITICAL MEMES. Memes are the new propaganda, and propaganda plays into our EMOTIONS, not our rationale. Whether you are liberal or conservative, it is easy to fall into this trap if a message plays to your values or belief system. The Russians who infiltrated our political system used social media and inflammatory memes in many cases.

2) Stick to Legitimate News Stories

Unlike a political meme, a LEGITIMATE NEWS STORY will play to the facts and will appeal to your RATIONALE. Even editorials or opinion columns will cite proven facts as backup to the writer’s viewpoint.

3) Know Real News vs. Fake News

How can you tell REAL NEWS from FAKE NEWS?

  • Follow a variety of reputable news sources from both the right and left. For example, you may follow The Nation, but also The National Review. You may follow the New York Times, as well as the Wall Street Journal. I recommend picking five (5) publications. Scan them all regularly. If you see certain, factual trends being reported, they are true.
  • In journalism, this fact-trend tactic is called VALIDATION. The rule of thumb is to never write an article with less than three (3) sources. If you receive a claim from one source, you must validate it with a minimum of a second source to confirm its truth.
  • Look for ATTRIBUTION in your news stories or social media posts. True journalists always cite their sources of information, and the sources should not be other publications. They must be PRIMARY SOURCES. In other words, the information should not have come from a third-party medium or individual.
  • The only time a journalist will protect his or her source is in the case of ANONYMOUS PROTECTION. This is granted when the person leaking information is doing so in the best interest of the public’s right to know, but that individual may face severe consequences, whether legal or otherwise, for doing so. This is protected under the FIRST AMENDMENT, and is vital to our country’s checks and balances.

4) Don’t Trust Inflammatory Language

Beware of INFLAMMATORY LANGUAGE. I am not talking about your friend who ranted on Facebook out of anger or frustration, or even the grieving parents of a child who was shot at school. I am talking about emotional, inflammatory statements made by individuals YOU DO NOT KNOW OR RECOGNIZE, and whose statements lack attribution, validation, or any of the other points I mentioned above.

LET’S KEEP OUR AMERICAN POLITICAL PROCESS SAFE FROM OUTSIDE INFLUENCES!

Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by propaganda this upcoming election cycle. Vote how you want to vote, based on facts and correct information. PLEASE SHARE to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., if you want to help spread the word.

Yes, I’m Angry. But I’m Choosing Love Anyway

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Courtesy of El Payo via Flickr

Let me start with this: I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. In fact, the man has the rare ability to crawl under my skin like lice and turn my blood to lava.

Despite these feelings, I have chosen to resist and fight back with the strongest action of all … love.

On the day of President Trump’s inauguration, I posted a single quote to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in response to the eruption in our country:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

This is perhaps my favorite quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., and no other words more adequately described how I felt on Jan. 20, 2017. Since then, I’ve watched hate grip this nation from all ends of the political spectrum, and while I’m not going to deny my anger, I’ve grasped for these words with greater fervor now.

A close friend of mine from childhood who is Christian said she has chosen to make love her battle cry. As a Jew who is more secular than religious, I decided to join her. My friend said love is not always an easy choice, and she’s right—which is why choosing to love, rather than giving into hate, is so effective.

President Trump goes against every core value I’ve been raised to believe.

  • My father paid my way through college working as a music teacher and I grew up on the stage, yet President Trump wants to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • I have a profound respect for nature, yet President Trump wants to gut the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • I believe health care is a right, not a privilege, yet President Trump is pushing Congress to disband the Affordable Care Act.
  • I’m a former journalist—launching my career with the First Amendment in my pen—yet President Trump calls citizens like me the “enemy of the American people.”

His lack of empathy for those who are different than him, or believe differently than him, or oppose him politically, appalls me. Yet rather than label other Americans who have labeled me, I stand here on this page, and I am declaring to you, President Trump: I CHOOSE LOVE.

I will not lose friendships over this election and I will strive to speak from a place of reason, rather than anger. I will funnel my dissent into saving animals, helping my family and giving to those in my life who need it. I will stand up for minorities or refugees and call my representatives in Congress to keep you in line. I will celebrate life alongside my Muslim friends, my Christian friends, my Catholic friends, my Jewish friends, and my Atheist friends. I will aim to understand those who are different than me. I will use my writing to provide a voice for the voiceless.

I will love, President Trump, and I will look for the light inside every American, whether they voted for you or not. In the words of another MLK quote that I admire, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

#LOVEWINS

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