It's been a politically turbulent year, with the past election, protests, rallies, and scandals. If I think about it too deeply, my head starts to spin and I have to fight the urge to move to a desolate log cabin and become a hermit. But if I've learned anything, it's that running away from problems is never an efficient solution. Admittedly, that's been my strategy when it comes to handling political topics with my family, and really just in general.
My mother and father are both Republicans, and I was raised in a primarily conservative household in Charlotte, North Carolina. I went to a private Catholic school where the majority of my peers and their families were also Republican. My earliest memory of politics is watching the news before school with my dad in the morning during the 2004 election. Nothing like the aroma of black coffee and George W Bush in the morning! Based on my parents comments here and there and a plethora of "Bush Cheney '04" stickers and posters decorating our cars and front yard, I formed the association that Republicans = Good and Democrats = Bad. I don't want to blame my parents for my jaded introduction to the world of politics, but looking back, I do think it would have been important to provide me with unbiased facts about each political party.
During the 2004 election, I remember going to my elementary school and having discussions about the candidates with my teachers and classmates. When asked who we wanted to win the election, an overwhelming majority of the class would powerfully declare "George Bush!" There was a small handful of students who didn't agree with the majority, and were noticeably quiet about the topic, as if they were ashamed of their family's differing opinion. They were singled out, identified, and often taunted by other students, as if the notion that NOT voting George Bush was completely insane. Democrat! You're a Democrat! It was used as an insult, hurled at anyone who didn't declare their support for the Bush campaign. We didn't know why we wanted him to win, we just knew that our parents did, and that was all that mattered. And at a certain age, that's really all the information a child needs.
Unfortunately, politics brings out the ugly in a lot of people, and kids pick up on what they hear their adults say, and remember every small remark. My daddy told me that Democrats kill babies! George Bush is going to save my dad's money, the other guy wants to take it away! Democrats are lazy and don't want to work!
I blindly accepted what I heard, never really entertaining the thought that maybe there were two sides to this story. During Obama's campaign in 2008 and eventual election in 2009 I remember counting the number of Obama Biden and McCain Palin signs in people's yards on the way to school. I remember the annoyed grunts of my parents when we drove behind someone with OBAMA BIDEN '08 plastered proudly on the back of their car (their grunts were especially emphasized if the car was any sort of Smart Car or Beetle Bug). This election period, the anti-democrat rhetoric was different than I had ever remembered. It seemed less and less about the political party, but about the candidate, Obama. Looking back, the majority of that election seemed to be centered around pointing out everything that was wrong with Obama, and picking apart his character, his family, his past. I remember the speculation surrounding his birth certificate, an incident with marijuana, a photo of him smoking a cigarette (who cares), and if he was Muslim or not. I also remember how unfairly Sarah Palin was treated in the media. She was constantly sexualized, her wardrobe was picked apart by critics and not a day went by that she wasn't called out for wearing expensive clothing, as if she was supposed to show up to political events in Old Navy blouses. The way people and the media treated Obama and Sarah Palin made a deep impression on me, and to this day it still bothers me.
In class one day, our teacher asked us to take out a sheet of paper and write Barack Obama on one side, and John McCain on the other. "Write everything you know about each candidate on your paper and circle the candidate you support. You have 5 minutes." I remember staring at my paper blankly, unsure of what I did and did not know. I knew who I wanted to win, but I didn't really know much about him. After racking my 12 year old brain, my paper closely resembled the following:
Side note:I give major credit to my teachers during this time, the amount of ignorant and factually incorrect information they heard from their students must have been tiresome, and they handled it with such poise. I also cringed reading and writing the list above, I really can't believe I wrote those things.
Despite my deeply ingrained conservatism, there was something about Obama that I secretly liked. I loved rooting for underdogs, the element of surprise success. I liked how Obama was distinctly different than the usual politicians I had grown up seeing on my TV. I liked how he spoke, always so calm and collected. On the day of his inauguration, I remember the air of gloom and quiet disgust that seemed to permeate the air around me. I felt it again in 2014 when he was reelected.
I want to note that my family and friends that I grew up with were not bad people, and at the end of the day they did respect our country and acknowledge Obama as our president. I'm recounting mostly the negative experiences because they are the ones that have stuck with me so vividly over the years.
I reached a political turning point when I was 16, and began to spend my summers in New York City with my mom's sister Darcy and her wife Stephanie. Darcy was incredibly smart, well informed, and fiercely passionate about current events and people's rights. She was a democrat in every sense of the word. As much as she wanted me to align with her politically, she also wanted me to form my own thoughts and opinions. We watched documentaries, read articles from left and right news sources. But what impacted me more than anything else, was my love and respect for her and her wife, and the dawning realization that many Republicans did not support their rights, or LGBT rights in general. The thought of someone trying to invalidate their marriage, healthcare, and basic civilities was horrific to me. I began to learn about the other side of the story that I never took the time to read when I was younger, and I was hit with a serious plot twist. I discovered the importance and real purpose of feminism, the differences between pro-life and pro-choice and why as a woman, the latter is so important. I was surprised at how closely I found myself leaning to the left. Where had this information been my entire life?! I did research on Republicans as well, and I came to the realization that I did agree with some of their policies, but not enough to call myself a conservative. I had finally read both sides of the story, and I was surprised at what I found.
Going back down south with my newfound perspective, I was nervous about how my family and friends would react. So I did what everyone does when faced with a potential problem- I tried to ignore it. I never denied what I believed in, but I wasn't the strongest advocate when faced with opposition. Truthfully, I was scared. I was a minority in my own family, and some social circles. So many people are not taught how to respectfully disagree with someone, or how to be open minded enough to consider someone else's perspective, even for just a moment. I experienced this first hand from my younger brothers and old highschool friends, who would scoff at me and use the word liberal like it was an insult. They would talk over me, loudly and aggressively, almost as if they were afraid to hear what I could possibly say, that I could potentially make a valid point. (Does anyone else smell a hint of cognitive dissonance?) Also, why does it seem like straight conservative men are always yelling when it comes to talking politics? I've realized that some people will never try to understand or learn about things they aren't familiar or comfortable with, so for your viewing pleasure, I included a helpful chart about the Left vs Right incase you were reading this post and started to have a few questions.
At the end of the day, I am more liberal than I am conservative and my family is more conservative than liberal. And guess what? That's okay. I only take issue with people's differing views when the delivery is violent or hurtful. No one should be afraid to express their opinion or political beliefs. This is America, a country based on the beauty of freedom. To end this post I want to leave you this idea: Empower your children with knowledge, empower yourself with knowledge. Disagree with others, question everything, but do so respectfully. Don't be afraid to think differently. Do your research, watch CNN and Fox news. Listen to NPR, follow Republicans and Democrats on social media. Form an opinion and stand by it.