Tag Archives: liberal

Raised Rural 4: Rural Politics

I’ve been trying for weeks to get to the point where I can talk about how my culture and politics have fundamentally changed. Before I get there, though, I think I have to spell out exactly where my politics were. I have to take a step back so I can dissect exactly how they changed.

At home, I had a politically disengaged mother who would have voted for Ralph Nader if she had been registered, and a father who was deeply distrustful of government. He told my younger brother and I, in no uncertain terms, that we should never trust a government that wanted to take guns away from the people. On his desk, he had a “stop scabs” button protesting the temporary workers who come in when unions go on strike, and a MAD magazine cartoon picturing a museum docent in the background, explaining to a tour group that vikings believed they would be rewarded in heaven for their barbaric and violent behavior, and in the foreground, a crazed-looking man with “Arab terrorist” written across his machine gun strap exclaiming “Sounds perfectly reasonable to me!” The desk was a heavy metal thing that looked like it belonged in an office somewhere, and though I remember seeing his business textbooks from his courses at community college sitting on the desk, I have no memories of my mom using the desk when she was enrolled.

Sometime after we got a computer in 1996 or 1997, but before my father started taking online classes at the University of Phoenix, he shared a printout of racist jokes with my brother and me. It wasn’t our first time encountering them, of course. I had heard them traded at holiday dinners, especially when the pastor of my grandparents’ UCC church would join us. The pastor recited his contributions with a slight Pennsylvania Dutch accent, one that wasn’t nearly as heavy as my grandfather’s accent was when he interjected comments while listening to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. Or when he told me to “turn that crap off” when found me watching Janet Jackson’s “You Want This” on MTV in the living room one afternoon. Or when my brother and I overheard mutterings about “the Mexicans” drifting back to us from the passenger seat of my grandmother’s minivan. We had learned about the evils of racism and prejudice in school when we studied the Civil War, and we were both shocked that it still existed, let alone in our own family and in the leader of the church where we went to Sunday school. Coupled with statements from my parents about how the Pennsylvania Dutch around me were ignorant and backward, it bred in me a low-grade revulsion that lasted for years and years.

In school I learned that the Republican Party was business-focused and the Democratic Party was people-focused, and at home I learned that all politicians were corrupt. In the high school sociology elective that I took after my parents’ sociology and philosophy textbooks piqued my interest, I got more information in the the form of a handout explaining the demographics of each political party. Republicans were generally rural, had a high school education, and were working-class. By contrast, Democrats were generally urban, had college degrees, made more money, and/or were often non-white.  In my interactions with outspoken high school girls who were dressed in trendier clothing than me and had “the only bush I trust is my own” on their MySpace pages, I also learned that Democrats tended toward self-righteousness.

Because of the timing of my 18th birthday, I was late getting in my voter registration, which would have declared me an independent and given me the ability to vote for Bush in 2004. I didn’t do much research aside from a cursory Internet search, but I knew Kerry claimed to represent the interests of of the people while being one of the wealthiest men in Congress. Shortly after the election, my grandfather said something about boycotting Heinz products.

I became slightly more engaged with politics after my boyfriend (and later husband) and I got together that fall. His parents hailed from Catholic working-class and middle-class families in the Philly suburbs, and they moved around the Philly area and the Midwest before landing in our town when my husband was a toddler. We’d first met in the elementary school gifted program when he was a quiet fourth grader and I was an awkward sixth-grader, and in high school he sometimes came to football games and traded Monty Python quotes with mutual friends who sat with me in the marching band section. Instead of music clubs, he pursued debate team and scholastic scrimmage. The way he explains it to me, he was an “elite nerd” who enjoyed arguing with peers, and since his peers were primarily liberal, he had to take a conservative stance in order to have arguments. At some point, he started believing in the persona he had formed. It was reinforced by the beliefs of his parents, who often watched Fox News when we hung out in the evenings, and other respected adults in the area, who presumably understood the world better than teenagers.

My boyfriend/husband read political theorists like Machiavelli and Rousseau, as well as lots of history books, and he argued his stances with refreshing pragmatism instead of the unexamined gut reactions. For example, such-and-such government program sounded great in theory, but it would be prohibitively expensive. Or, so-and-so federal law was basically a good idea, but lawmakers had hidden a bunch of junk in it to appease their constituents. Or, so-and-so senator shouldn’t be writing this bill because he has no expertise, or so-and-so is saying this strategically but he actually votes that way. Or, this-and-this government program targeting that-and-that problem created dependence and actually perpetuated the problem instead of solving the root cause. Socially pretty liberal, but skeptical of implementation of social policies. He rolled his eyes at mainstream conservative media figures like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Bill O’Reilly. He was knowledgeable and impassioned, and his libertarian-esque beliefs and concerns mostly became my own. We believed everyone had equal opportunities for success and just needed to use their own talents accordingly, as we had.

His family ties to the Philly area – and the desire to go somewhere much more exciting than our town – led him to enroll at La Salle University and work towards a history degree, while also working 30 to 40 hours a week at the restaurant his father managed in the suburbs. I needed desperately to get out of our town too, and I joined him at La Salle after I finished up at community college. Through his social circle I met religious conservatives, a branch of conservatism that I hadn’t encountered in our hometown of mainline Protestants whose politics were completely detached from their religion, as well as business-oriented conservatives from well-off families. As mentioned before, I became friends with other socially liberal, fiscally conservative, moderate independents. We wondered at the narrow aims of our outspoken Democrat friends, who seemed solely concerned with social issues. My friends and I liked Obama’s personality but distrusted his message (and felt more than a little alienated by his dismissive “clinging to their guns and religion” statement), and we voted for McCain, the war veteran with years of experience, a message of ‘reaching across the aisle,’ and an immigration policy that was to the left of the GOP party line and more palatable to us and the undocumented workers we knew from our jobs.

During our time in Chicago and in New Haven proper, my husband fell into political nihilism, refusing to acknowledge any position at all. After what I’d experienced in Chicago, I wasn’t sure what to think, either. The Tea Party movement had gained traction within the GOP, and it quickly morphed from a libertarian opposition to excessive taxes into refusal to compromise with Democrats, calls for Obama’s birth certificate, statements that he was a Muslim with the implication that a Muslim president was a bad thing. It was a movement with racist undertones that I did not want to be part of. I didn’t register to vote in 2012, but I found myself somewhat happy that Obama got a second term. Despite my initial hand-wringing and the passing of the controversial Affordable Care Act, he had gotten us out of Iraq and started withdrawal from Afghanistan, slowed and stabilized the economic recession he’d inherited, and he had proved tougher than expected in foreign policy. He hadn’t been terrible, and might have even been good.

Plus I’d liked living in his neighborhood.

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Why I protest the Trump administration

For the last few months, maybe even close to a year now, I’ve noticed that political memes and updates by some vocal Trump supporters on Facebook often come from sources called “Boo F*ckin Hoo” or “Sorry if the truth hurts” or “Liberal babies,” and the primary message of these posts is “Liberals are whiny snots who don’t understand how good they have it.”That protesters shouldn’t be protesting. Some carry the message that we’re sore losers, and that they didn’t protest against Obama’s presidency (setting aside that some did), so it’s juvenile for anti-Trumpians protest the Trump inauguration. The argument that protesting the inauguration is “whiny” is often based in the Trump supporter’s respect for the democratic process, and the assumption that I don’t respect that process if it doesn’t go my way.

Respect for our democratic process is EXACTLY WHY I AM PROTESTING.

There are some basic traditions/assumptions about how our government works. People in positions of power (ideally) get their appointments based on merit: on experience, skill, a personality that will work well on a team and act as a lubricant. It’s exactly how we would like any employer to hire their employees. The president has previous experience managing in government, and the successful ones have a magnetism that makes it easier to get things done. Reagan, for example, a former movie star and governor, and patron saint of modern conservatism. The heads of EPA, Department of Defense, and other departments have experience in those departments, such as academia or research or in administration, and they have evidence in their work history that they are capable leaders in their field.

From the top down, the Trump administration has none of these merits. Trump’s picks for his cabinet include people with no experience but with long campaign donation histories or with political sway and early statements of support for his run for presidency, partisan critics who have stated they want to completely dismantle institutions that protect Americans and that predate the Obama administration, friends of friends, and at the very worst, warmongers and white supremacists who incite unfounded fear that leads to unexamined, blinding hate. His picks would sound like a joke if they weren’t his actual picks and thus so tragic:

  • Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart “news” who is currently Trump’s chief strategist and supposedly the architect behind the shoddily designed, poorly implemented Muslim ban
  • Betsy DeVos, his pick for Dept of Education who has never worked in education, who wants to abandon the public school system in favor of vouchers, and who has made $200 million in contributions to the GOP
  • Rex Tillerson, former head of Exxon-Mobil and Trump’s pick for Secretary of State who was given a friendship medal by Russia/Putin. Nope, no possible conflicts of interest there.
  • Rick Perry, pick for Department of Energy and climate change denier who once said he wanted to scrap the department and who didn’t understand his job role in the new administration.
  • Jeff Sessions, pick for Attorney General and old-fashioned racist.
  • Ben Carson, former neurosurgeon, bizarre pyramid theorist, and pick for Housing and Urban Development solely because he’s Black and thus understands the issues of all Black folk. Also the only non-white.
  • Andrew Puzder, anti-union and anti-minimum wage chief executive of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. and pick for Labor Secretary

 

Trump himself is a private business owner who has needed to answer only to himself and his investors, and he has a trail of lawsuits documenting manipulation of his customers to increase his bottom line. This is not somebody I would trust to balance the interests of an entire country. He has no political experience whatsoever. Some people like this about him, but the fact that he doesn’t understand the basic mechanisms of politics and governance worries me. Throughout the presidential race, he showed that he is tone-deaf not only to the language and norms of political world (or even the real world – see: his Twitter account, “grab her by the pussy,” the disturbingly threatening body language he used when debating Clinton), but to the ethics that bind politicians. I want my politicians to value the concerns of all Americans, not just those that voted for them. I want them to listen, and I want them to respond to the concerns of Americans. Trump doesn’t even pretend to do this. Or maybe he does – but only after creating a narrow definition of who can be an American and who can’t. Under the Trump administration, I am not an American, and therefore my concerns don’t matter.

Along with ignoring the ethical responsibility of the president to include all Americans, Trump is ignoring the basic values that make our government work, and which Republicans in particular seem to hold in high regard. He is questioning the authority of the judicial branch, which is supposed to balance his executive branch. He has not divested his personal business interests. He has rejected daily CIA briefings that would help him make major security and policy decisions. However, he continues emotional outbursts on his own personal Twitter account. (Sad!) He has undermined our first amendment rights by stating that flag burners should have their citizenship revoked, refusing to talk to one of the biggest news outlets, and suggesting that our arguably best-researched, most professional, most respected news sources are “fake news” while sending out his stooges to claim “alternative facts” (which has spawned some really great parodies). His recent executive order is in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, and Rudy Giuliani has admitted that Trump approached him to help him make a legal ban against Muslims. I can’t even recall every instance in which he has shown his disregard and disrespect of our laws, and he has only been in power just over two weeks.

And let’s not ignore how much this sounds like authoritarianism, like Mussolini, Chavez, and other world leaders who have done terrible things to their own people. How he throws temper tantrums when other world leaders wouldn’t play ball with him. Let’s not ignore that George Orwell’s 1984 is a current best-seller, and that it was the most-requested title this past week when I sat on the public desk at my library job. And that more than 4 million people showed up to protest his inauguration in the U.S. alone to make for one of our largest protests in history shows the fear that many of us have for our future. And that on my  Facebook feed, all the ambivalent Trump voters who claimed “wait and see” are strangely silent these days.

And that stupid fucking myopic Muslim ban for which he elicited not a shred of input from his military cabinet members, who would have told him it would be a dangerously stupid move in the fight against ISIS, and turned instead to an Islamophobic hatemonger to help him draft it. It’s illegal, and it’s un-American. Nearly all of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. It’s a common narrative on the right (and on the left too), that people came to this country from nothing and were able to raise themselves up.

Once upon a time, I bought into American exceptionalism. I bought into the idea that all the bad stuff that happens in the world couldn’t happen here. That we were somehow immune from it, intrinsically different from other countries. That our system was just, or could be just, simply by the fact that it existed. That we wouldn’t willingly vote an authoritarian into power who will either terribly exploit our system or completely destroy it from the inside. That the words “freedom” and “democracy” meant something more to us, that those principles were stronger than fear and hate. I was wrong. We are no different than any other country, and our democracy is just as fragile as every other ruling system, and it needs regular citizens to stand up and fight to protect it.

And that is why I protest.

 

Indoctrination

Reading people’s Facebook posts amidst the shitstorm that was today’s action against refugees, I came across somebody arguing that colleges indoctrinate America’s youth. Then another argument that it’s liberal teachers in our public schools who are doing the indoctrinating.

They’re right. Memorizing a pledge to recite every morning at school and before every scout meeting before we know the meaning of the word”pledge,” learning to remove our hats and place our hands on our heart the way we get taught to work a zipper or to borrow the 1 and carry it over, learning a tidy history that moves from one era to another, ignoring countries outside of the Americas and Europe, and that claims peaceful reverends who had a beautiful dream were solely responsible for the civil rights movement and everything’s been happiness and candy ever since – that’s indoctrination. Being a young child whose mind is still forming definitions and maps of your world, and overhearing adults say offhand comments followed by “you know how those people are” or jokes about “those people” when you have no actual experience of “those people”and so you color in your map with information from those comments and jokes because you know no other way. That’s indoctrination.

The university is not what made me liberal, and they did not indoctrinate me. I went in slightly right of center in politics and identity, and I was antagonistic to the super-liberals there to the point where I drew a caricature that they published in the newspaper. I left the university still center-right, still suspicious of liberal politics, just with more ammunition to defend the right-leaning parts of my perspective. And I was in the humanities, not science or business or nursing or another major where you’re not dissecting political and social systems at some point in most, if not all of your classes.

What turned me liberal was actually living in and working in and engaging with a city and learning how to recognize the messy history and the injustices from which I was insulated in rural Pennsylvania, and in many cases, from which I am immune. Finally interacting with “those people.” What I saw and heard in a working class Black neighborhood. The books I read about gang economy and code switching. The library patrons who came in every day to look for jobs or get help navigating assistance programs. I’ll get into that in my next post. But for now, I needed to set the record straight on exactly what indoctrination is in this country. It’s not what they say it is.

Raised Rural: Part 3

I established what it was like growing up rural, white, lower-middle class / working class, and conservative as a result. Here I’ll try to lay out how that changed. I imagine it’s going to be just as navel-gazing as the other posts.

While at La Salle, I felt like an outsider. Most other students were urban or suburban, well-off, and Catholic, a denomination that I had grown up knowing very little about, and certainly nothing positive. I was rural, overweight at a time when Pink was blowing up as a brand, and making some of my own clothing out of necessity since I couldn’t afford trendy brands or shop at many regular stores, and I was years past the point of asking my mom for money that I knew she didn’t have, while living among a sea of slim girls with credit cards whose balances were paid by their parents. I didn’t have the money for regular Starbucks runs, impractical Ugg boots, or Apple products, and I didn’t want to identify with that group of people anyway.

In classes, I explored American and British literature and took religion courses, and I learned a little Russian and improved my Spanish. I performed in the jazz and pep bands, and I sang in choir and was an officer at one point until some other students and I pushed our choir director, an older man whose day job was teaching at an all-boys Catholic school, to perform not just for nuns in a nursing home an hour away but to bring our music to children in the local public schools, and the ensuing arguments got so nasty I had to leave choir. I tutored kids in Camden and south Philly once a week, until constant motion sickness from the long van rides forced me to stop. I got work-study in the university archives and every other weekend, I went back home to work a few hours at Kmart. During the summer, I would go back to the Lehigh Valley and take jobs with temp agencies, doing data entry for a beer distributor one summer, then warehouse work alongside women and men mostly in their thirties and forties, and a few stints in factories making boxes or assembling lotion containers. My husband and I both worked in the same warehouse one summer, and we heard over and over that we needed to finish our degrees so we wouldn’t have to come back and work there permanently.

I chafed against the very vocal far left students, who came off to me as smug, shallow caricatures, taking great pains to conform to a stereotype of ultra-liberal college student and who seemed condescending towards those whose political opinions differed from theirs and who had no desire for open discussion. It was easy to poke fun at the socially awkward, intense anarchist, and the artsy atheist vegan who listened to British punk and who wanted everyone to know she was an artsy atheist vegan who was into British punk. I wrote an article criticizing the slant of the college newspaper and bemoaning the lack of balanced viewpoints. I considered myself a moderate, socially fairly liberal but economically conservative and concerned about national security and government spending much more than social issues, a position shared by several college friends who also came from modest backgrounds and went back to work during school breaks. When we openly criticized Obama’s foreign policy during the 2008 election and took his cheer of “yes we can” as a hollow message lacking any substance, I remember a liberal Democrat friend remarking something like “well, they hate Democrats.” The language of this remark placed us into a box, created an artificial binary where one didn’t exist, and shut down any sort of discussions we could have had. My moderate friends and I supported McCain, the moderate Republican, therefore in my Democrat friend’s eyes we were against Democrats, despite our Independent status on our voter registrations.

In truth, this creation of binaries, this idea that I encountered from many Democrats that they were somehow superior, and the automatic assumption by many of my Democrat peers that I shared their viewpoints and political affiliation (and the consequent underlying assumption that if I were Republican, I had differing viewpoints that were also inferior), played a large role in why I stayed away from the left as long as I did.

 


 

This broke down when I moved to Chicago with my now-husband and I truly became an adult.

Graduating in 2009 with more debt than we’d expected and with a terrible economy, we both went directly into graduate school. He fled turmoil in his family, and I followed him. We weren’t insulated by a college campus as we were in Philly, but actually living among real people now, first in Kenwood and then Hyde Park, both on the south side. Our neighbors were mostly working-class Black folk.

Our apartment was robbed within a week of us moving in, and our landlord, a tall Irish man who never seemed to make much eye contact with me and reserved it for my husband, assumed it was a mentally ill tenant on a floor above us and he tried to enter his apartment to look for our items and take my husband along with him, who refused to help. Over the next several months, though, we would have to confront our landlord’s practices for the racism that it was. We overheard him treat the Black tenants – who were trying to raise families – dismissively and listen to us, the two stupid college students who would be gone in a short time. We befriended the spunky, talkative 12-year-old girl upstairs, who was one of the only people our new dog tolerated, and we heard about how the landlord treated her and her mother. We grew so uncomfortable with this favoritism and his general terrible practices as a landlord that we moved when our lease was up, despite the reasonable monthly cost.

During the two years we lived in Kenwood and Hyde Park, I made small talk with men and women who were waiting at the same bus stop or who wanted to greet our dog or who waited on me in stores or who wanted to tell me they were extras in the Blues Brothers.

We got dirty looks when we climbed aboard packed buses, full bags hanging from us from a grocery shopping trip, two white kids taking up aisle space among tired women who appeared to be on their way home from work.

We loaded up a gigantic suitcase every two weeks with our dirty laundry and wheeled it eight blocks to the laundromat and watched People’s Court while women folded white t-shirts.

We came across a man laying on the sidewalk, soaked to the bone and unmoving, and I reached out and shook him to wake him from what we guessed was an overdose, and after he rose, bewildered, the ambulance we called refused to come out and make sure he was okay, because he was able to walk.

I was spat upon by a disturbed, angry man who also spat upon an older white lady working in the laundromat – I knew it was ridiculous when the enraged woman said she wanted him to be charged with a “hate crime,” and I stood in court next to her and the white student who witnessed it and the white cop who wrote up the incident, while the white judge talked to the man as if he were a child and made him apologize to the laundromat lady, and outside the courtroom the cop told us the man would be back out in the streets in a matter of months because the jails were overcrowded and it was warm outside.

We saw how the neighborhoods became dusty and litter-strewn and boarded up immediately south of the University of Chicago, package stores the only thing open for blocks and blocks.

We heard how the college kids raved about Harold’s, the chicken joint in Hyde Park at 53rd and Kimbark, but were too afraid to venture out beyond the bubble of the university, though we knew you could get vastly superior chicken at Golden Fish and Chicken at 45th and Cottage Grove, near our first apartment.

We were approached one cold night close to Thanksgiving by a man who asked us if we could get him something in the supermarket, and we bought him sandwich supplies to feed himself and his family for a couple days.

We were asked by a suspicious bus driver one night, after a long day downtown, if we knew where we were going and we replied “home,” though the driver didn’t seem to believe us.

We took a bus transfer on our way to a nice dinner and found ourselves waiting on a trash-strewn intersection, deserted except for several men and women, high and stumbling around as if they were the walking dead.

We saw the devastation from the earthquake in Haiti and learned that an immigrant we knew, a former coworker of my husband, lost his entire family in Port-au-Prince.

I waited 40 minutes for a late bus one day before I decided to walk to my green line stop on 47th, and as I got closer to the station, I saw dozens of people standing utterly silent on the sidewalk as a woman screamed, full of grief, in a vacant lot across the street, a news camera trained impassively on her, and I later found a news article containing a photo of a bloodstained White Sox hat lying on the macadam.

When I finally found a job at a research library, my boss told me that the workplace barely ever closed for bad weather, because it only closed when the schools closed, and the schools stayed open because they were the only place that many kids in the city would get a meal for the day.

I waited for a train one day and heard two young men threatening each other across the platforms, and an older gentleman quietly turned to me and said, “excuse me, do you think there’s a lot of hate in this world?”

I overheard a woman with scarred, scabbed, picked-over skin and a clear, angelic voice talk to somebody only she could see.

I read about how a girl who had sung at Obama’s 2009 inauguration and who lived in our first neighborhood had been shot and killed on a nearby playground.

I stood as one of the only white folk at the Easter Vigil at the church in which my husband was being received, and without any hesitation, the parishioners grasped my hand during the Lord’s Prayer and shook it, smiling, during the Sharing of the Peace.

I was told to kill with kindness at my retail job on the Magnificent Mile.

I was told that the old lady who made an extended fuss and exasperated my patience was probably lonely and looking for somebody to talk to.

I felt guilty that, in the middle of summer, I could only point the Muslim woman and her daughters to the clearance floor and hope they could find something modestly cut from the early spring leftovers.

I realized that no matter how little money I had, there were always those in much worse shape than I.

I saw men and women relieve themselves on State Street, a boy throw up on himself at 8 am on a Saturday morning, and a man with pink stubs where his fingers should be.

I touched eugenics journals from 1930s Germany, and washing my hands didn’t remove the deep feeling of unease I had or the image of the swastikas on the cover, and I cried when I stumbled upon an article from an 1880’s medical journal where a doctor wrote luridly and in great, gratuitous, tabloid-like detail about a severely deformed infant girl.

 

 

 

This is how I became an adult.