Confession of a Southern Woman
I spend a lot of time in election years biting my tongue. Mainly because I don’t like conflict, and it seems impolite to argue. Also it feels almost dangerous to share your opinions sometimes deep in Alabama, if you aren’t going with the flow. I don’t have much of a stomach for angry Facebook debates; I reserve my no-holds-barred fights for my brothers.
But I’ve been aware and interested in government ever since I changed to a history major and a polisci minor in college about a decade ago. I really enjoyed those classroom debates. I remember the humor, the testing of new waters, how none of it felt very personal. Now it all feels like every issue will have a deep impact on at least some individuals, and I feel it all personally. Now I take political quizzes from PBS and am labeled “Far Left” or “Extremely Liberal.”
I don’t feel like an extremist, and I’m not when you consider history or global politics or reasoned discourse. I seem to have come to a different position than many of the people in my area of the country, but I took the exact same route as they did and ended up here. I am my parents’ daughter, and they brought me up with the same “American Pie” values and Christian morals that most children from my area got. Those are exactly the same ideals that inform my politics today.
Generosity, sharing, the golden rule. Of course I think that people who work hard and innovate should be well compensated. It’s unfair to think otherwise. But I believe that the heart of our purpose as ethical humans is to lessen suffering in others. No one is going to suffer because his or her million dollars is taxed at 35% instead of 13%. No one. But someone will suffer from hunger tonight. Someone will suffer because they can’t afford health care. Someone will suffer because they weren’t able to get the education that could’ve helped them stay employed.
Equality. My parents were never particularly socially conscious or political when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, but they did make it clear to me both implicitly and explicitly that everyone was equal. Every person deserved the same love and respect. As a girl from family of share-croppers in rural Alabama, there was no reason I couldn’t think that I might one day be president. It was always, of course, more than a little improbable, but it was important to me when I was a kid, that they say, “Yes, you can do anything you set your mind to.” I took it to heart. Years later, when we attended a church that tried to teach me that I was a second-class citizen because I failed to possess a Y chromosome, I was, shall we say, put out. Those early lessons about equality had stuck with me, and they are one of the reasons I believe so strongly in marriage equality. To deny a part of the population the pursuit of happiness, equal protection for their families under the law, it’s unconstitutional. It’s wrong. I also support equal pay for women and minorities, of course.
Fairness. When you grow up with siblings, fairness is a fairly big deal. Basic fairness is one of many reasons that I support access to education and healthcare as human rights. Not everyone in America is born into a family able to afford these things, but everyone deserves them. Fairness is also a reason that I am against corporate personhood. I like to think that each vote counts, but when corporations and SuperPACS can spend shocking amounts of money lobbying politicians behind closed doors without even having to report the interests involved, I feel a little less equal than the average “corporate person.” I just don’t have the resources to affect my representatives in the same way, and I think it’s unfair. The current parties’ ties to big business are one of my least favorite features of the current political system.
The importance of education. Education was what made it possible that a middle class girl from rural Alabama might become President, not wealth. I was taught that education and hard work were what made the sky the limit. And I think that’s the case for the nation, too. Providing our citizens, all of them, with the best education possible is what will create a work force that is capable of overcoming our greatest challenges and innovators capable of insuring our continued greatness. Without investing in education and research, I don’t think we’re likely to be able to keep up with other parts of the world that invest in their citizens.
Respect for the earth, love of nature. Loving nature is easy to do when you come up in a place as beautiful as the place I grew up wandering through. I was taught to do no harm, and I would be able to return and enjoy the same space again in the future. That’s why when 98% of climate scientists say that global warming is real and caused by humans, I sit up and say, “What can we do to fix the harm we’ve done?” (Seriously, if you saw 100 doctors, and 98 of them told you that you definitely had cancer and that smoking made it worse, would you believe the 2 who didn’t?) It’s one of the reasons I choose not to eat animals. It’s why I don’t think we should drill for oil on federal land. It’s why I compost and recycle and try to buy local. It’s why I value the EPA. I don’t believe that higher profit margins compensate for poisoning communities, ecosystems, or individuals, and market-based solutions just don’t care about these precious resources, lives.
Individual liberty, independence. I’ve always been independently minded, but resisting peer pressure, thinking for myself, doing what I knew was right were big ideals in my household. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion and freedom from religious establishment are touchstones of a free society. I really was taught these things growing up, and they were reinforced during my socialization into the library profession. So it’s probably not a big secret that I’m not a big fan of invasive government surveillance, and I am a proponent of a free and open internet. Infringing on civil liberties of American citizens is definitely one thing that I haven’t been very impressed with when it comes to our current administration (also, drone strikes). What someone does in his or her own home that doesn’t hurt anyone else is no one else’s business. I would call myself practically libertarian on these views, but they wouldn’t take me because I do favor some gun control. (The only reason you might need an assault rifle to “protect your home and family” would be if a small militia arrived to take your blu-ray player. Americans haven’t had to worry about militias invading their homes since before the semiautomatic was invented, so rest easy with your hunting rifle.) So the liberty I’m talking about here is the freedom to express oneself, not a lack of the responsibility to others that comes from participating in society, or the freedom to hurt others out of a sense of personal entitlement, because…
Personal responsibility, cooperation. I am the oldest of five, all told, so not only was I considered responsible for my own actions but for those of siblings under my charge and influence. When one of my younger siblings needed help with something they couldn’t manage alone, it was my responsibility to help them do it. And when we turned our collective wills to something, we were pretty much unstoppable. I think it’s our responsibility to help people who need it, the less fortunate, the young, the elderly, the sick. And I think that as a nation, it’s easier for us to band together and do things than to try and strike out on our own. My favorite form of public cooperation for good: libraries.
So there you go. I was raised in the Deep South by Christian parents who are now a slightly-left leaning moderate and a staunch conservative, and that’s how the “American” values they taught me lead me to my place in the world as a feminist, far-left progressive woman. It seems that others often think that I should feel ashamed. The conservatives surrounding me think I should be ashamed of my politics, and almost everyone outside of the South thinks I should feel ashamed of where I was born. But my parents taught me to value my own self worth, and I believe that they are proud of me, too. I’ll be voting proudly Tuesday for every progressive candidate and cause I find on my ballot, even if the electoral college makes it feel a little less effective than it might in a swing state.