When I seven or eight, I saw a television commercial. The ad was meant to shock: emaciated bodies, starving children, a pleading Sally Struthers. I was inconsolable for days, sobbing into my mother’s lap. She likes to remind me I offered to forgo birthday presents to save the children. While I don’t remember that particular young girl nobility, what I do remember is being unable to understand. How could anyone watch such obvious suffering and not do anything? The very idea that there were children starving in the world, that people knew and weren’t doing anything –it blew my young mind. And it totally changed the way I saw the world around me.
It’s exactly the same way I feel now.
I’ve just returned from an extended stay in the United States during which I found myself in a crisis of conscience. Much like I felt about the world as a little girl, I felt about my homeland on this trip. The country I thought I knew is not the country I saw while I was there. My adamant liberalism, my dogged insistence of allowing all a voice, even when that voice is shouting the opposite of mine, was sorely tested on this trip. More than that however, was the realization that among my fellow Americans it is likely people I know are knowingly turning their backs on whole segments of the country in the guise of something else.
The realization didn’t just break my heart, it went a long way toward breaking me completely.
Not too long ago, when the party opposite mine took the form of differing views of finances and corporations, it was enough to agree to disagree. I could argue with plans to cut welfare. I could disagree with the idea of broader state’s rights. We could be on different sides of the fence yet I could still look them in the eye. I didn’t walk away from a conversation about social security reform feeling sick to my stomach.
The current incarnation of the Republican party is no longer simply the party of smaller government and tax breaks. It has made no bones about who it wishes to include in its idea of a ‘Great America’. In case the hateful rhetoric being splashed across television screens and front pages hasn’t made it clear, just look at what their stated, public goals are: teaching the Bible as American history, passing an amendment making sure marriage is defined as between a man and a woman, defunding Planned Parenthood, revoking a woman’s right to choice, and building a wall to keep out immigrants.
How much are you willing to pay in an attempt to make some people safe or some better off? Are you willing to vote for a party which is fighting to make so many lives negligible, which is ready and eager to strip away long-fought for rights?
If you are voting for the GOP ticket because you believe in the party’s current platform, we have nothing in common. But if you are turning a blind eye to the violent, hateful flotsam and jetsam which will be the lasting aftermath for decades? I can no longer pretend it doesn’t matter. I can no longer attribute it to ‘differences of opinion’ when it involves stepping on the already broken backs of others for the sake of economic reform or change or because of anger at the status quo. It’s gone beyond unpalatable for me, beyond even stomach curdling.
I simply can’t, on any level, justify supporting that. Whether one is doing it as a protest vote, a vote for change, a vote for economy, or safety or any other reason. My conscience can’t and won’t respect anyone who casts a vote for that much publicly declared hatred.
To those of you who identified with the Republican party and find yourself cast adrift, I will say this: I feel for you. To the Republicans I know who no longer recognize their own party, I am truly sorry. If the party I dedicated myself to long ago was as unrecognizable as the current GOP, I would be bereft.
But I have nothing left to say to those who are pushing aside any discomfort they feel to vote for the GOP ticket this year. I have nothing to say to those willing to throw their hat into a ring of hate simply to toe the party line.
In my bubble of safe, well-fed childhood, I eventually forgot those starving, emaciated bodies. Before long I went back to longing for Christmas presents, for Barbie dolls and roller skates. I forgot, but my mother didn’t. Years later she and my father sponsored a child; all because of that little eight year old girl who cried at how broken the world was.
In my bubble of safe, educated privilege, I could turn my back and forget once again. I could forget about my fellow Americans voting for a party which is building a platform of racism, of sexism and discrimination, of rage and exclusion.
But I’m grown now. I don’t have my mother to pick up the slack. I need to do it myself. And I refuse to live with myself by pretending it is ok, by pushing it aside simply because I can.
The world may still be broken. But that doesn’t mean I have to accept those who are working to break it even more.