On Friday, Oct. 21, the Ann Arbor District Downtown Library hosted congressman Jamie Raskin and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell in conversation about Raskin’s new memoir “Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy.”
The book follows his journey through navigating his son’s suicide, the capitol riot on January 6, 2021, as well as leading the impeachment trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump.
“I started writing it as a love letter to our lost son Tommy, and then it became kind of a love letter to America at the end,” Raskin said. “I learned most about how personal democracy is to everyone, and how much we depend on democracy in ways we don’t even think about on a daily basis. Also, how each of our lives is so intertwined with our political conditions.”
On December 7, 2021, the surgeon general of the United States warned of the crisis among youth and young adults relating to mental health and wellbeing. Raskin’s son Tommy suffered with mental health issues, particularly exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So many have been touched by the opioid epidemic, by fentanyl, by the mental and emotional health crisis in the country,” he said. “These things are not misfortunes that families should suffer on their own. We have to support people, we need to develop community and public policies that express our solidarity and our care for people.”
Raskin has been representing Maryland in the House of Representatives since 2017, was previously a law professor and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1987. The representative is currently serving as a majority committee member on the select committee to investigate the January 6th attack on the capitol.
“There was nothing remotely spontaneous about this, this was not like an old fashion rally that got a little bit out of hand, this was an organized pre-mediated hit on the U.S. government,” Raskin said. “The ultimate charge for our committee is to issue legislative recommendations on how to prepare for and prevent coups, insurrection, political violence, electoral sabatoge moving forward in the future.”
The event brought together people from a variety of backgrounds, including people from Ann Arbor and surrounding communities, medical and law students, and undergraduate students from the University of Michigan. When asked about mental health in a profession like law, he encouraged students to look beyond the “traditional” pathways for careers.
“There are people all over the country who need the help of lawyers,” Raskin said. “So I am encouraging law students to get together and go find beautiful, great communities like Ann Arbor, Lansing or Flint. Places especially [in] states with a large electoral college that are swing states, go to those states, bring your best friends, plant some roots, build a happy life and fight for the future. That’s where we really need you much more.”
Raskin has turned his campaign into Democracy Summer, a program for high school and college students to participate and learn about political leadership, campaigning, voter registration, and more all over the United States. The goal of this opportunity for youth is to train and develop the skills of the next generation of democratic leadership.
“My dad always would always say when we were growing up ‘when everything looks hopeless, you’re the hope.’” he said. “All of us have to take up our portion of the hope and spread it out, and especially extend that blanket of hope to the young people in our lives […] We need some aggressive political action to make progress on the problems of our days to let young people know we’re with them and we’re going to get through this.”