by Laura Jane Cohen
We got back last Sunday night from a mini vacation. My husband had a work conference and so the kids and I tagged along. On the 5 hour drive, several times the kids asked what remains my favorite road trip question:
"Are we there yet?"
"No, you'll know when we get there."
"How much longer until we get there?"
"I don't know. Not that much longer."
And with that, they invariably sighed or groaned and went back to the business of a road trip, eating junk food and watching a movie.
I've really struggled with what to write these past few weeks. I've started and scrapped six posts ranging from a confession of a suburban white high-schooler to a rant about PTA politics. The problem is that I don't know what to say. Among my friends, among my family, this election season has been a line in the sand. You find yourself constantly tiptoeing around land mines, trying to assess how much of your opinion you really want to express. While my good friend and next door neighbor, who is a Republican Mormon, and I have stopped short of filling each other's lawns with yard signs from the opposing candidate, we are very careful to change the topic when our election conversations begin to hit a little too close to home. On Facebook, on TV, and even in your own cul-de-sac, it seems you're either pro Obama, against Obama, or so turned off by the whole thing that you question if America will survive the divisiveness that has become the hallmark of this election.
If you know me, you know I'm a Democrat. A big "D" Democrat. Like Lady Gaga, I was born this way. Political memories are some of my first clear memories. I remember watching the election results as Ronald Reagan soundly trounced my fellow Georgian, Jimmy Carter. My parents were so disheartened that I wondered if Jimmy Carter was a family friend that I didn't remember. When I was younger, being a Democrat was more like rooting for the Brewers than the Yankees. I grew up in Marietta, Georgia, where Newt Gingrich was my Member of Congress. Our district was solidly Republican, years before the entire state went red.
My parents were social studies teachers who constantly stressed the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen. I am also a woman, a fact that my grandmother, who was 14 when women finally got the right to vote, would never let me forget. All the women who suffered, who were blacklisted from their own lives, I owed it to those women to never let a race for dogcatcher go by without casting my ballot.
The first time I voted for President, it was for Bill Clinton. He was a southerner, like me. He talked about raising people up. About the need for healthcare reform about looking ahead with an eye to the past. Are you better off than you were four years ago? The country overwhelming said "no". It was the first time that the person I had voted for actually won. I was hooked. Whether it was helping my mom run a neighbor's campaign for state house, working for the Lt. Governor, or canvassing with two kids under 2 in a double jog stroller, I've been involved in politics ever since.
But politics has changed. I guess it's a result of tough times. People are on guard. Always afraid that they will be the next one to get laid off. Afraid that their retirement savings will disappear. Afraid that they won't be able to send their kids to college or pay the mortgage. With the 24 hour news cycle and talking heads like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Bill Maher, there is no room for real political discourse and very little room for facts. Political conversations aren't conversations at all. They are talking points angrily said to one another with Wolf Blitzer in the foreground. Instead of talking about issues and public policy, we spend time talking about the "true" nationality and religion of our current President. Instead of having a discussion about healthcare, we fight about Obamacare and Romneycare or whether or not Romney wears special Mormon underwear. We tolerate people talking about "taking out" the President (I don't care how good of a song "Cat Scratch Fever" is...you lost me, Ted).
This year feels different. I have been quiet. No canvassing. Not even so much as a bumper sticker on my car. Honestly, for the first time in my life, I've been afraid to rock the boat. Too many waves and people start to get nervous. What if you knock somebody out of the boat? Or worse, you fall out yourself? No, my Obama Mama t-shirt sits collecting dust because I have been too polite.
And then I went to early vote. I stood in line with people of every color, gender, shape, and size. The poll worker announced that the woman in front of me was a first-time voter and everyone cheered and clapped and I stood there with a lump in my throat. A guilty, teary lump. I have just shrugged my shoulders or gently shaken my head as people have said the most outrageous lies about a president I support. And now I'm done being quiet.
I support President Obama not just because he is the Democrat in the race. Not just because he is not Mitt Romney. I support him because while I am not a fan of abortion, I believe that government, especially one made up mostly of men, don't get to make policy about my body. I've been paying attention and I have never seen them get to make a decision about a man's. I, like Thomas Jefferson and John Locke before me, think that all people are endowed with certain inalienable rights and that among those is the right to pursue happiness, i.e. no government should make laws which arbitrarily infringe on that right. And if all of you get to keep your AK-47's as part of keeping a well armed militia, I just can't comprehend why on Earth that you think that the same documents you use to protect that right can be used to strip away someone else's right to marry another consenting adult, no matter what their gender. I support the President because I believe that no one should have to make a choice between taking their diabetes medication or being able to put food on the table. Between being able to keep their adult child with severe Autism in a loving group home or paying their own mortgage. I support the President because I don't believe that you should go to a good college and rack up loads of debt, come out and get a modest paying job and have banks charge you 29% interest on that loan. Predatory lending should not be what keeps you from ever being able to move out of your parents basement. I support the President because I was taught that we have a God given responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves. Matthew 25:40 tells us "The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" I will not turn my back on these principles because some believe that people in need are "gaming" the system. Jesus didn't means test who he helped. He helped those who needed help. I ask you to try to provide for your family for a month on food stamps and then tell me that it's a free ride. If we do nothing else as a country, we should be mindful of the times we have fallen in our own lives. Of the times we needed help from our family, a friend, a neighbor. I don't imagine there is a one of us who hasn't had help on the way to picking ourselves back up off the ground. I think it is very fitting that a small chunk of my tax dollars go to helping folks who have had a rougher go in life than I have. And I sure don't mind the extremely wealthy giving a little bit bigger chunk of what they make. I like to think of it as the government being the middle man in the Lord's work. I'm good with that.
No, just like our road trip, we're not there yet. How much longer? I don't know. Hopefully not much. But there is traffic. They are roadblocks that have nothing to do with who the driver is or how well he's driving or how badly he wants to get there. Are we there yet? No. But we will get there. And for my family, with my precious kids along for the ride. This is the driver I am betting on to get us there.
I'm done being quiet because it's too important. Too much is at stake. Because, as the Indigo Girls reminded me last night, "Don't take a seat, don't stand aside, this time. Don't assume anything. Just go. Go. Go." Whether you agree with me or think I'm full of it, I do hope that you will go. Go vote. Too many people lost too much on the way to have that opportunity. And too many people have too much to lose if we stand aside this time.