After this weekend I’ve officially affirmed a central facet of my identity: I’m a Democrat. My two weeks of experimental rebellion and exploration have come to a swift conclusion. For the past two weekends I have traveled with the Wake the Vote Cohort to Columbia, South Carolina to participate in the primaries. Last Friday we attended a panel discussion on bipartisanship with the chairs of the South Carolina Democratic and Republican parties. In it some fundamental differences between the parties were analyzed and discussed. In an election season that has been entrenched in ideological purity and extremist rhetoric it was refreshing to see two party leaders sit down and talk about the ways in which compromise was both feasible and beneficial. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing from the South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison, but some of the comments made by his Republican counterpart Matt Moore were troubling. His answers to questions on immigration policy for example lacked depth and understanding and I found his relative evasiveness on the subject to be quite off-putting. It was the beginning of a long weekend of troubling experiences with Republicans that has forced me to reconcile my Democratic identity once and for all. Later that weekend we attended a Ted Cruz rally and that’s when I confirmed that Ted Cruz is actually a menace. Ted Cruz has mostly been able to fly under the radar as the anti-Trump alternative, but in reality his policies are just as divisive, harmful, and extreme. The nature of his proposals are insidious because he packages himself in such a way so as to appear rational and compassionate but in reality it is evident that he panders to a very specific, very narrow constituency. It was apparent that our group was once again stigmatized as we had been at the Trump rally. This time the surveillance was more internal than the direct and aggressive profiling that we experienced at the Donald Trump rally in New Hampshire. Everyone at the Cruz rally was huddled in an airport hangar clustered around the stage. The crowd was homogeneous except for our small group of young people that included students of color and people of various socioeconomic strata. The physical proximity of the Cruz supporters intensified the uneasiness I felt during the rally. At many points during the event supporters chanted bible verses in unison and cheered about Ted Cruz being a miracle. I felt compelled to whoop and cheer along as an attempt to make it less apparent that I actually felt mildly disgusted by Cruz’s damaging rhetoric and policies. The Cruz rally for me felt like a twisted game of “one of these things is not like the other”: I was constantly reminded of my difference and the ways in which that difference made me vulnerable in a space that was populated by energetic Cruz supporters. The policies that Cruz advocates for neglected or intentionally negatively impacted women and people of color. For example his crusade to defund Planned Parenthood would deprive women of vital health care services and screenings and make it harder to access safe reproductive care options. His flat tax plan would disproportionately affect people with low income. Cruz is extremely far to the right, and his brand of purist ideology was the final nail in the coffin for my flirtation with conservatism. His supporters rallied around his attacks on President Obama and the chorus of voices coalesced to form a bloc of homogeneity that was exclusive to me as a young woman of color.
The most important lesson that I learned from the Cruz rally in Columbia is that as someone who is attempting to fully engage in the democratic process I deserve a candidate who is appreciative of all the beauty in a diverse and multidimensional electorate. I deserve to attend campaign events and feel affirmed and valued instead of uneasy and marginalized.
Returning to South Carolina this weekend to work on Hillary Clinton’s campaign was such a breath of fresh air. On Thursday, I had the opportunity to visit the office of Congressman John Lewis when Wake the Vote traveled to DC. Congressman Lewis is literally the best human being on the planet. He is a civil rights icon, a principled and dedicated public servant, and a genuine and energetic speaker. He is my political hero, my inspiration, my mentor, and I occasionally refer to him as my best friend (he will be one day). He also recently came out with a very strong endorsement for Hillary Clinton that strengthened further her strong support among African-American voters in South Carolina. Meeting with Congressman Lewis and talking with him about his story and his personal recollection of the Civil Rights movement was an amazing opportunity. His continued commitment to equality and justice is reflected in his work in Congress and his espousal of Democratic values had me breathing a sigh of relief as I found myself agreeing with his policies and plans.
That sense of ease and belonging culminated this weekend during my time working on the Hillary Clinton campaign in Columbia. Having already worked for Marco Rubio in Iowa and New Hampshire I had formed a different set of expectations for my time working on the Clinton campaign. From the minute I walked through the door those expectations were surpassed. The staff at the Clinton campaign in Columbia were a beautiful mix of various identities. There were people that represented a range of socioeconomic strata, gender identities, races, sexual orientations, and ages. It was a space where I didn’t feel like a token, but a valued contributor. The energy was palpable but tempered, like a steady flow rather than an overwhelming and sporadic burst. The music was a playlist of feel good classics and witty signs were hung throughout the room. My favorite: “I didn’t come to play with you bros. I came to slay.” It was representative of the entire atmosphere in the Clinton campaign. We spent the day canvassing in a neighborhood that was dominated by elderly African-Americans, a demographic that overwhelmingly turned out to vote for Hillary in the primary on Saturday. We met a woman while canvassing who gave me renewed faith in the electoral process. She approached us and told us about how heavily invested she was in voting, how seriously people took their civic responsibility, and how eager she was to get her daughter and other young people involved in voting. At almost every door we knocked on we were met by voters who were enthused to participate in the democratic process, and even if they weren’t voting for Hillary I was excited to see so many people willing to give up their time and use their resources to get out to the polls.
That night at the Hillary Clinton victory rally I was once again surrounded by a room full of people that had many differences in terms of identities but were similar in that they were passionate about electing a president that was more about unity and progress than divisiveness and discrimination. Clinton’s speech was the best I have seen yet at any rally that we have attended. The room was electrified and I found myself being swept up in the moment. She addressed many of the intersectional issues that I had been frustrated about when they were ignored by Republicans. She touched on policies that would stymie the effects of racism, sexism, islamophobia, xenophobia, etc. It was truly one of my favorite nights with Wake the Vote. After leaving South Carolina, I am more optimistic about finding my own place in the political arena in the future. I would one day like to run for office, as I was encouraged to do by Congresswoman Alma Adams when we met with her in her office on Thursday. After experiencing the inclusiveness and progressiveness of the Democratic Party, I am ready to do just that.