I was just thinking about all the political conversations that I have had since I have been at the University of Missouri. I was also thinking about all the times that I have vented here about people in my class that I have vehemently disagreed with. Then I started thinking to myself about how much I can really complain since, let’s face it, my ideology was not far away from them at a certain point of my life.
I first became involved in politics when I was 15 years old. That is where I will start the timeline (voting for George H.W. Bush and George Allen in school mock elections when I was 7 and 8 years old should not really count). I grew up in a political family: my father was a union steward at Norfolk Naval Shipyard before he was laid off in 1993 and my grandmother was a community leader who led the fight to integrate schools in Nansemond County, Virginia (now the independent city of Suffolk). Yet, I had always looked to other endeavors, like meteorology, which was my first love and something that I had wanted to make a career out of. When my father was talking to me one day about my career choices, I told him this (even though he knew this already). He then told me to go look in the want ads and see how many jobs they have in there for weathermen. Predictably, the answer was no, and I began to think about other careers. I was sort of rudderless, going back-and-forth between business management, computer science, and journalism.
Then 2000 happened. The Bush v. Gore election captivated my attention. It was at this point where I decided to make the political arena my labor of love. Given my political views at the time, i would have made a perfect candidate for office in southeastern Virginia. I was staunchly pro-life, anti-gay rights, and a firm believer in the capitalist system. I was also pro-union and pro-affirmative action. I considered myself to be a conservative Democrat. This put me in line with my mother, who I lived with at the time. We were both born-again Baptists, and we certainly had a conservative view on certain portions of society.
This followed me to Minnesota, and the way that I stood out could not have been more clear. Like my father, Minnesota is by-and-large a progressive state on issues such as taking care of the poor, abortion, and gay rights. My father and I clashed slightly due to our divergent sociopolitical beliefs, even if we were voting for the same party. But my first semester in college changed most of my views forever.
1. Gay rights
- Again, I was fiercely opposed to rights for GLBT persons of any kind. Part of it had to do with the church that I went to, but part of it also had to do with a sort of machismo that can prevail in Black neighborhoods, the sort that would lead me to proclaim that I would kick the ass of any GLBT person that tried to hit on me (Idiotic? Yes.). This changed when I entered the student government at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. I was elected Vice-President of the Student Senate at 17, and I traveled to Brainerd, MN for a statewide community college government meeting. The President of the Student Senate at the time was supposed to have a room there, but he did not. So not only did we have to share a room (a huge one with a fireplace, I might add), but we also had to share a bed. The President of the MCTC Stident Senate was a gay man. However, I really did not feel like I had much choice in the matter, seeing as he was taking me under his wing and showing me the ropes as far as student government was concerned and I felt that if I were to not room with him, that I would been seen as a bigot and a homophobe by my colleagues. It was the wisest decision That I have ever made. Perviously, my experience with GLBT persons was from a distance, being that I had no GLBT friends in high school. That weekend at the conference, I softened up considerably. We became friends, and I saw him as being no different from anyone else. Because of this, I began to drop my anti-GLBT attitudes over the course of the semester, eventually taking up the equality position that I continue to hold to this day.
- You would have never mistaken me for a NARAL activist in Virginia. I was pro-life with the usual caveats (rape and life of the mother). My father and I would clash about this, as he was just as pro-choice as I was pro-life. The government had the duty of protecting life, including the unborn. There was not a real defining moment that prompted my shift leftward on this issue; probably due more to just living in the Minneapolis area and being exposed to a more liberal set of politics than what is available in Virginia.
3. Economic systems
- I believed that making money was paramount to having a good life, and that the capitalist economic structure was the best way to go. I began to question capitalism upon arrival at MCTC, as I saw more and more people that the economy had left behind. I turned against capitalism during a short relationship in 2005 that I had with a girl named Cheyenne. Cheyenne and her family were…..a little strange for many reasons that will not be named here. However, they were a union family, like mine, and they were into politics, as my family was. So it was a great fit. They were also socialists. It was at this time that I began to read more political tracts, especially Marx. Books like Das Capital and the Communist Manifesto began to give me a new way of thinking. I began to see myself as a leftist, someone who believes that the government should help to bring about equality and social justice, but only through democratic means. I find some of the more revolutionary tenets of socialism (like communism) unattainable in our society, and I believe that democracy is still the best form of governance and the best way to bring about change. Things such as health care for all people, cheap or free higher education, and paying people a livable wage began to shape the way that I looked at the world. I am grateful for it.
My evolution gives me an ability to counter arguments better, as I can feel how those on the other side think since I was there not too long ago. The way that I got to this point was by having the dialogue with those who I disagreed with initially. But once the seed was planted in my mind, I began to read, research, and re-assess my thoughts on many issues, eventually changing many of them. While the conservatives that I have conversations with may never change their minds on an issue, they will have been given a different set of facts and a different way of conceptualizing an issue. Then they will think about it, and at that point, the conversation will always have been a success.