A Liberal in a Red State
In this red state of Texas, it is not unusual for the word “liberal” to attract some form of antipathy. Naturally this only contributes to my usage as it rolls off my tongue with ease time and time again in conversation. Its definition (free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant) is comforting in the face of opposition and the experience that comes with its connotations is entirely unique. I am consoled by the beauty in this and the fact that the modern political experience lends itself to inclusivity. “...One of the characteristics of modernity,” writes Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others, “is that people like to feel they can anticipate their own experience.” Although we may anticipate, we cannot expect. I never expected this cataclysm and I never expected the journey that would come with it.
To begin, my liberal experience has been unconventional. My childhood was rather bohemian; I was surrounded by both schooled and “unschooled” minds who sought to change the public education system, the environment, the government, the world. My mother wanted to make sure I knew all sides of all stories so that I would be well-equipped to figure everything out. I was never told what to think and so my political stance was based off feeling. I keenly remember election night of 2008: my mom and I adjusted the rabbit ears on our 24” TV just enough to watch Barack Obama win. It felt safe, which was all that mattered. Shutting off the screen and flicking the light switch, I closed my eyes to a new world.
Opening my eyes, it’s 2012. I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my mom’s car, looking at a bumper sticker that reads, “One Big Ass Mistake America.” I can’t count how many of these I’ve seen but I know that I’ve only seen them in Texas (although I’m sure they exist elsewhere). I try to figure out how he could be a mistake. It all starts to mean more; I start to understand. Obama wins again and I don’t think twice. “HOPE” is the motto. I keep it close to my heart as I get older and must listen to words from the mouths of my peers that sound as though they’ve been placed there by someone else. Words such as, “he’s not very responsible,” and “marriage isn’t supposed to be between anyone other than a man and a woman” were like needles to my translucent, childhood bubble. Where did these ideas come from? They seemed to me like seeds, planted a fraction of an inch apart without room for rumination or growth. This time I only close one eye so that the other may look out and hopefully, beyond.
Now, I am older. Not yet old enough to vote. It is 2016 and I am taking a government and politics class that I find boring, except for the parts where I can rant to my fellow classmates via online discussion boards. I am required to take a political typology quiz. I wear my 100% liberal status as a badge of pride. Simultaneously, family gatherings grow tiresome. I want so badly to question, even challenge that one right-wing supporter I will never understand (a woman of color, a mother, a daughter of immigrants) but I don’t. Instead, I search to find a sliver of acceptance between us that feels like a weak handshake. Is it wrong to not wear the necklace she gave me? These acts of defiance are not intentional and certainly trivial. But sometimes I cannot bring myself to detach meaning from material.
It is right now; present day and we are almost four months into 2017. Four months out of twenty-eight. Countdowns are never satisfying until the end when you can look back on all the x’s on your calendar and decipher what you wrote underneath them. The past is always over and all that lies ahead are empty squares. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston writes, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” I am unsure of where this year stands but I am certain that it has left a mark. It’s too early to tell if this mark is a scar or a message. Though, perhaps it’s not visible; perhaps it’s a ringing in my ears. And perhaps liberalism isn’t correlated with the state of the government but the state of individual minds. I will always be hopeful for the future, because in spite of seeing red, I also see blue and purple. There is comfort in knowing that although the state is red, it is not entirely so. I am always trying to learn, and that means listening, to everyone. In doing so, perhaps some form of clarity will find its way.