A Letter to Holly Figueroa O'Reilly

 Earlier today I sent an email to Holly Figueroa O'Reilly. She's a songwriter and activist from Seattle who sued President Trump and won - twice. Her bravery is to be admired. That's why I wrote her the following.

Dear Holly,

Hi. I’m 19 years old. I want to tell you a little bit about myself because of how much you inspire me.

I am a person with autism. Wikipedia will tell you that autism is a developmental yada-yada. I can tell you that for me, autism is a perpetual desire to communicate and connect with humanity, and to understand why all people, including myself, think and feel and act the way they do. Communication and connection are hard for me, though. I’m rather impulsive and inarticulate when I talk, but I’ve found that writing scripts and songs is my only way of really expressing myself.

I am a social justice advocate. My curiosity about humanity, as a person with autism, led me to realize how wonderfully different all people are. People come in all genders, not just two. People come in all different shades. People have all different ways of loving other people. And people are even more different on the inside than they are on the outside. These differences shouldn’t just be accepted, they should be celebrated. Sadly, people in power ignore the needs of some people based on their gender or shade of skin or their way of loving other people. People in power also ignore the dangers of gun violence and the climate crisis. I’ve realized that all social issues, like all people, are connected. Social justice is intersectional.

I am an artist. Once I realized that writing scripts and songs was my truest form of self-expression, I had at it. I just finished a screenplay called “Heart Shot” about a family coming together after a mass shooting to remember the past, face the present, and save the future. I’m currently working on two others, one addressing gender inequality and one addressing California wildfires. Sadly, it seems no one is willing to look at me through the lens of my art. Just last week I sent an original song I wrote for “Heart Shot” to the Parkland Students. I wanted them to see it because they’re the most inspiring young people I know. However, I talked too much, I asked too much, and I just got too impatient. Upon realizing that they wouldn't be writing me back, I wrote in my journal: “I wish the gun reform movement would make more room for people struggling with mental illness. I wish I didn’t have to fight for our lives alone. I wish I had a group of friends my age with whom I could share my activism, and who could share their activism with me.”

I wish everyone would share my spirit during this pandemic. When I wrote to the Parkland activists, I asked if they would be willing to do a Zoom call. From their point of view, they were probably a little freaked out. From my point of view, I believed that these students who have spoken eloquently to millions should make a little time for a person their age who stutters with anxiety when speaking to his own mom. Why? Because, even though their names are known far and wide as young leaders, and my name is known to my street as the weird kid upstairs, we share a belief, a concern, and a mission. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what we share. This is the time for us all to communicate and connect with each other in the spirit of empathy.

In your voiceover for TheProtestFilms, you referred to life “slowly returning to the way it was.” Holly, you are wrong. Life will never return to the way it was before the pandemic, because of what the pandemic will make us realize. One rainy day in 2021, you, Holly, will be at Starbucks. The door will open. And when Greta Thunberg, a hooded black teen boy, and a dirt-poor migrant girl from Guatemala walk in together, remember this email. Apathy is a pandemic. Empathy is the vaccine.

Best wishes,

Leo Finelli


  1. YOU definitely get the "sociological imagination" - what a thoughtful letter.


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