That’s right. Let’s go back in time. It’s 2008, and I’m a senior in high school. My family is all about John McCain, but my birthday is in May, and I’ll miss the election by six months. That didn’t stop me from vocally expressing my concerns about Obama’s birth certificate to classmates and questioning if a Kenyan should get to be president of the U.S.
I shared what I was taught at home. Both my dad and grandfather were Republican state senators in South Dakota, and my dinner table was always a debate on display.
Fast-forward to 2012. I had graduated from Bethel, and I had been married for three months. This was the first presidential election that I could vote in, and I was 21 years old. I remember talking on the phone with my dad, keeping my mouth shut at schools where I substitute taught when talk of the election came up, and filling out a mail-in ballot for Colorado because, for some reason, I hadn’t registered to vote in Minnesota yet.
And as I came right out and told you, I voted for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to govern the country. This may also be the best time to confess my relief that I didn’t have to vote on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment because I didn’t know if I should vote yes or no.
On the night of the election, Ben and I watched as Barack Obama was named the winner and would begin a second term. I remember feeling defeated. Like Mitt Romney’s loss was my loss.
Let’s time travel again. This time to September 2013 when I got hired as a tenth and eleventh grade English teacher in a first ring suburb of Minneapolis. I was 22, naive but passionate, and grateful to have a teaching job. That year smacked me in the face and taught me many lessons about my tolerance level, socialization, and close-mindedness.
It was the first time I truly interacted with people who didn’t look like me, think like me, and believe like me. And it really caused me to learn a new skill set of meeting people where they are and to listen. I started hearing new perspectives that I had never been exposed to before in my conservative, Christian, middle-class upbringing. And I could attach those perspectives to human beings with names and narratives and not just some strange population of people I didn’t know or understand.
I remember thinking about how a college professor had told us that “barak” meant blessing in Hebrew. When I first heard that in class, I’m confident I rolled my eyes.
During my first month of teaching, Lee Daniel’s The Butler was released, and I made a point to see it in theaters. It gave me a whole new lens to comprehending “barak” as blessing. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it without reservation even though it does glorify the “black struggle” plot I learned from author Roxane Gay.
Over the next few years, I began observing the broken system of education I had joined that was filled with a variety of humans with a vast array of different lived experiences. I heard the concerns of students that I had never had to think about before- like feeling uncomfortable using a public restroom that matched gender assigned at birth or how demoralizing it feels to be followed in Target because of the color of your skin. These are ideas I have never even entertained because I didn’t ever have to think about them.
I was growing. I was acknowledging the efforts the Obamas were making to invest in populations of people I never knew were real people or that I really cared about before I actually met some of them.
Leading up to the 2016 election, I was all about Bernie. I mean, are we that surprised? I’m a 20 something, fairly-liberal, pie-in-the-sky ideas believer at this point of my life. I attended a rally in Saint Paul where I was one of 5,000 people in the overflow room. I sometimes wonder how many other people there are who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and then hoped for Bernie Sanders in 2016. The thought makes me laugh.
Ever since the 2016 election was called and Donald Trump was named president, I have been hoping to do more than just be repulsed by the news articles and social media posts. I want to make sure I do everything I can to limit his opportunities at another 4 years. I’m not actually surprised that he won. He represents a full swing the other direction to our country’s first black president. When I try to make sense out of what Trump says and does, I observe that he embodies racism, privilege, arrogance, and abuse of power. And it does make me miss, long for, wish I hadn’t taken for granted, the leadership of Barack and Michelle Obama.
There are certain issues that I still teeter on a fairly moderate or even conservative side, which I’m sure at some point I’ll write about, but for the most part, I have embraced allowing myself permission to change how I view politics and concepts and people in our country.
Dialogue is diplomatic. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Answer other peoples’ questions. Work through why you believe what you believe. And then, defend those ideas or accept that here in the United States, it’s okay to change your mind.
Please register to vote. Please vote. Please learn about the candidates running. Please encourage others to vote, not necessarily for a particular candidate, but to just get to the polls.
Registration to vote online or by mail in Minnesota ends on October 16th, 2018 this year. You can still register to vote in person on election day with proof of residence. Make sure all the people you know over 18, including yourself, are up to date on where to go and what to do. If you live in Minnesota, use this website to help and to register online.