Meet My Republican Friends

I get asked often why I decided to take this trip, this year around my own country. There are many answers I give, depending on the time allotted and the perceived interest of the person asking. Once in a while, if I suspect someone really cares about hearing the long answer, I’ll talk about my desire to understand the meaning of American.

There are a whole lot of people that use that word to describe themselves, I explain.

I took this trip, in part, so my kids and I could see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears the various definitions of American.

That means getting up close and personal with diversity. It means cancelling a trip to a museum to accept an invitation to dinner in what can only be described as the ghetto. It means remembering Shabbat with a family of two moms and two sons. It means building forts with children who are first generation Americans and listening to stories from parents of border crossings and naturalization ceremonies. It means parking in cities, suburbs and dirt drivways; hearing about layoffs and failed businesses and empires started in living rooms.

As a self-proclaimed liberal, progressive, Democrat, modern-day hippie, these encounters are easy for me. It’s a source of pride for us granola types to familiarize ourselves and our children with the marginalized sectors of society. “Look at how worldly and tolerant we are,” we say, as we snap pictures of our kids playing in the dirt with black and brown babies.

But that’s only one half of the American story.

Where there is a minority, there is also a majority. Where this is marginalization, there is the comfort and security of mainstream. And where there are Liberals, there are also Conservatives. I would be a fraud to claim an interest in understanding American if I ignored my counterparts.

I said as much to my dad while talking to him on the phone from a campground in Connecticut a few weeks ago. “I have to be careful not to just surround us with a bunch of other liberals and stuff. Guess I need to find them some narrow-minded conservatives to hang out with for a bit, too!” I joked.

“Bring them home to visit Papa,” he joked back.

A week later, as fate would have it, we were sitting on my friend Pauline’s back porch. I don’t even remember what we were talking about exactly, but I remember clearly her covering her husband Jeffrey’s hand with her own and saying, “You know, we’re Republican and pretty conservative.”

There was trepidation in her voice when she said it, and I understood instantly why. You have only to sit with me for about five minutes to gather that my politics lean more left than right and that I lean that way with passion.

I laughed.

“I was just telling my dad I needed to hang out with some Republicans!”

I relayed the story about seeking Conservatives and assured them both that they weren’t really the only Republicans I had ever met or even befriended. But still, we all agreed, the timing was comical.

“Actually, it’s rare to find immigrants that aren’t Republicans,” Pauline said. I cocked my head to the side in confusion and she continued, “We ran from communism. We know what socialism looks like and the consequences of the government trying to make everything the same for everyone.”

Pauline and her parents fled communist Poland when she was a child. Her father, a talented engineer, came to America initially as an illegal immigrant and eventually built a successful retail business in Chicago. While he’s financially successful now, he never worked as an engineer again, despite years of training and work experience. They gave up a lot to escape demoralizing breadlines and a government that “took care of” its people.

I couldn’t look this woman in the eye and tell her it was stupid for her to use the word socialist. I couldn’t tell her she didn’t know what she was talking about or that she was exaggerating or being ridiculous. I couldn’t throw Medicare or Social Security in her face.

This woman, this American, this friend of mine had lived communism, and the only sane thing I could do was listen and try to better see from her perspective.

“How do you feel about what the Republican party is doing with immigration right now? I mean… you know…”

She did. Of course she did. She looked sad and shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t like it,” she said, and her body language and tone reminded me of the way I react when people ask me how I can still be a Catholic despite… you know…

Ironically, I didn’t feel an urge to convince her that we would honor her immigrant status better. I didn’t want to change her mind or use her party’s disrespect of her story against either of them.

I wanted to defend her to her party. I wanted to march into the offices of the Republican powers that be and say, “Honor her! She fights for you, she stands for you. Do better for her.

It was the first time in my life I ever wished for the Republican party to succeed at something.

I didn’t go to bed that night any less of a Democrat; my own thoughts on public policy have not changed drastically. But I did feel like I understood at least one aspect of the other side a little more, or maybe understood a little less the notion of sides.

No, I didn’t leave Pauline and Jeffrey’s house a Republican.

I was simply more American.

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  1. Kim says:

    Amazingly great post ……. love it when so many perspectives can be seen and honored ….. so many times I hate having to pledge allegiance to any party, as I’m fiscally conservative and totally socially liberal ….. anyway, xoxo from another of your Republican friends. : )

  2. What a gift to be able to sit and listen and really hear. I keep feeling like I must speak up and set the record strait!!! But the truth is that so much of the time, my speaking up is just adding to the cacophony, and nobody is being heard. We talk about how important it is to speak up – but how often is sitting and listening and really hearing the wrong thing to do?

  3. Sheila says:

    If you hadn’t cancelled your Indianapolis stop, you could’ve hung out with some *really* cool Republicans. I hear these super cool people even like gay people and, as if that weren’t shocking enough, they recycle and eat granola bars.

  4. Nicole says:

    This bleeding heart liberal has turned to left-leaning Libertarianism. How’s that for different! I’m glad you enjoyed learning and being around people with different political views than your own. I enjoy it so much and have an eclectic group of people I call my friends from all sides of the spectrum. I wish there was the “Party of Aloha” here in Hawai’i. I’d be all over that one. :)

    • Miss Britt says:

      I don’t know a whole lot about Libertarianism. I should come to Hawaii so you can teach me!

      • Nicole says:

        Come on out anytime! Too bad your camper can’t drive across water. ;) In the briefest definition, Libertarianism is taking responsibility for your own well-being. However, there are different ranges of it, such as I’m the left-leaning sort. I still believe that people may need support to become self-sufficient. I’ve seen too much in my career as an educator the gap that needs to be bridged. So many people just don’t know how to do it. There’s nothing wrong with support. :)

  5. Nyt says:

    I’m glad you had the opportunity to learn a bit more about those of us from the “other” side of the tracks. I find it amazing that as a society, we are encouraged not to paint religion with broad strokes, but politics?? That’s a whole different story. It’s only when we actually listen to one another will we actually solve the problems that plague this country. I am a Republican…. assume nothing else…

    • Miss Britt says:

      A great analogy about religion and broad strokes. It’s so important to take the time to truly understand a position before you can ever hope to argue against it or work with it.

  6. Nanna says:

    This is really, really good. And like Coffee said above, yay for the gift of truly listening to someone else’s story. Oh, that I would live to see more people actually listening to each other!

  7. Jill says:

    Love this post! As a Democrat from a Democrat family who married into a family of Republicans I can certainly relate to listening and understanding the other side. We don’t always agree but we understand why and learn to tolerate differences. In fact, on most subjects we actually agree – it’s just the solutions we disagree on.

    • Miss Britt says:

      My husband’s family is actually pretty conservative I’m pretty sure – although they don’t talk about politics much. My husband spent the first few years of our marriage cringing when we’d go to family dinners, just waiting for me to open my mouth. lol

      I always tell him I don’t feel like I have to say anything because I know how he votes now. That’s a win for me. ;-)

  8. OHmommy says:

    That is the beauty of life. Meeting people who are different. Listening to their stories. Learning from them. Inspiring to become more.

    Like I told you, this is why I find blogging so incredibly fascinating because it allows me to “travel” to someone’s house and learn about them. I loved listening to you all week long, you’ve inspired me in ways you will never know. Also, thanks for listening Britt. I adore you.

  9. the muskrat says:

    Even when a government has plenty of money (like in the middle east, where it often owns the oil), having it provide everything for the people doesn’t work. It certainly can’t/won’t where the government doesn’t have enough money.

    My former next door neighbors voted Republican. They were gay; one came from Mexico (legally); both guys came from families without much money, and neither has a 4-yr college degree, but they are successful now; they just started a business that provides drug counseling to high school kids in TX. I just don’t see many entrepreneurs who vote Democrat (especially if they weren’t born into wealth–i.e., they had to build it themselves).

    • Miss Britt says:

      What’s the saying – if you’re young and a Republican it means you don’t have a heart; if you’re older and a Democrat it means you don’t have any money? :-)

      Although, I’d consider Warren Buffet pretty entrepreneurial…

      • the muskrat says:

        @MB, The version I heard said if you’re older and vote “D,” you have no brains.

        There are exceptions to every rule; I spoke generally (and from people I know personally).

  10. I always love to read your posts.Keep up the good work Britt.

  11. I really like the idea that understanding our political counterparts makes us MORE American. Thank you.

  12. i really love that you are teaching your kids about all kinds of people and to agree to disagree while still having intelligent discussions. as you know, people in general give me great joy and i think it is so cool that your entire family so easily gets along with all of the people you are encountering.

  13. What a great post
    One thing that really shocked and surprised me when we lived in the States was the fact that people would not associate with others based on their political views. I could not get over how you couldn’t be friends with someone because they were a liberal or republican.

    One thing I’m grateful for about being Australian is that we don’t much care for politics (which can also be bad) i have no idea what political party my friends support and only found out who my dad did this year because he is so annoyed at the current ruling party. We never talk about politics and it would never get in the way of friendship.

    We had REpublican and Democrat friends in the US and I loved knowing about each party and the views they had. I learned so much about politics and the importance of it and so much about how it can get in the way of real things- love, friendship, peace and compassion.

    I’m glad you had this experience

    • Momma says:

      As a Canadian, I can relate to your comments.
      Here in Canada, it’s bad taste if asked who we voted for, kinda like if someone asks how much money we make, nonayerbusiness! .
      Most of us, unless we’re in politics, believe in “don’t talk religion or politics”.
      I am fascinated by the whole process south of us, though, and love watching the drama unfold on CNN and Fox. Back and forth.

      • Momma says:

        Further to the above reply- I don’t want anyone to think it means I don’t CARE! I have volunteered politically, have worked the voting stations and have gone from door to door, but was not permitted to try to influence votes in any way whatsoever.

        I do love being Canadian- another reason being our whole election process takes a matter of 12 WEEKS from start to finish! The rest of the time can be used for governing. Not that it always is ;o(. Makes for boring television, though.

        • Miss Britt says:

          Are there rules that limit the process to just 12 weeks? Like campaigning isn’t allowed beyond that or something? That sounds awesome!

          • Momma says:

            Not really. I’m not a pol.sci. student, so this answer is very simplified, and, I hope, not too incorrect. Something like this; when the ruling party is blocked by a vote of non confidence (no, I don’t know what that means)the Prime Minister calls an election. The job of governing is put on hold, then the Prime Minister and the leaders of the two other parties, NDP and Liberal compete for votes. Much like there, but it’s done in a matter of weeks. Then, the winner is the new prime minister. Sumpin like that.

          • Momma says:

            And, the election really wasn’t 12 weeks, I just pulled that time line out of the air to compare with the US 12 or so months of campaigning. Our election actually was called the end of March, 2011, and we voted May 2nd, 2011. Wild, “eh”? Gotta luv it!

    • Miss Britt says:

      There are definitely plenty of Americans who don’t care about politics, too! But those of us who do tend to be so damn loud we can sound like we’re speaking for an entire country. lol

  14. Diana says:

    If you want to meet an anarchist-leaning libertarian come on up! ;)

  15. This is brilliantly written! Now *this* is the bipartisanship that our government often speaks of, yet can’t seem to figure out how to do. Wonderful, understanding attitude!

  16. Jamie says:

    That was awesome. Can’t say I’m a-political. There are personal issues I care deeply about. But to me, it’s never about a party. It’s about people. I love the way they think and why they believe so passionately about things. You conveyed that beautifully.

  17. naomi says:

    Loved this post. Add me to the list of your Republican friends … but I don’t think that party is a perfect one …

    Loved Coffee’s comment … it IS in the listening.

  18. Anna says:

    I love the humanity of this post and your humility. I really hope there’ll be lots more posts like this one throughout your adventure. It’s an extraordinary thing to meet with people and laugh together and learn from each other as we share our different perspectives. Brilliant stuff, Britt!

  19. Judy says:

    I live in Kentucky and all my neighbors are Republican. I am very much a Democrat. I get along fine with my neighbors, but we never talk about politics.

  20. carol anne says:

    >>> I didn’t go to bed that night any less of a Democrat; my own thoughts on public policy have not changed drastically. But I did feel like I understood at least one aspect of the other side a little more, or maybe understood a little less the notion of sides. <<<

    My God how better the world would be if we all thought like this. So much good could be accomplished if the folks in DC would just put their heads together and work for the greater good and not for partisan politics.

  21. Fadra says:

    Hi. My name is Fadra and I am a Republican. Thank you for writing this. I hadn’t read your post until someone pointed out on MY political post today that you wrote this. I love meeting other people that don’t necessarily share the same ideas but can talk about it and even try to understand each other.

    And now I understand why you hung out with Ilina when you came to Raleigh ;)

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