Orlando's picture

    The Moment I Knew

    I didn't grow up in a family that talked about politics. I knew that my step-dad's parents were yellow-dog democrats and that my dad and his mom were die-hard republicans. My mom voted for Reagan in 1980, so I figured she and my step-dad were republicans, too (turns out they SO aren't, thank goodness). Beyond that, I didn't think about it much. Dinner table conversation revolved around my parents' work lives and what happened in school that day. After dinner, we played board games or watched television. Outside of the house, our family activities consisted of going to boat shows or cross-country skiing in the winter and fishing or bike riding in the summer. We weren't the kind of family that protested together.

    I wouldn't compare my family to the Cleavers, mostly because my mom swore like a sailor, but my childhood was pretty idyllic. The first half of my life was spent in a Midwestern, middle class bubble. I read a lot and was curious about the world, but there wasn't too much in the way of struggle. My mom and I talked a lot, but for the life of me, I can't remember a conversation about politics or about anything except what was happening in my life currently and what would happen in the future. She was pretty focused on my future success and, more importantly, happiness.

    The first time I ever voted was in May of 1988. I was 18 years old and a senior in high school. It was the primary and I can't remember who I voted for. I think it was probably for the republicans on the ticket. Since I thought almost everybody in my family was republican, I guess I thought I was too. But then in the summer, as I was preparing to leave for college in a distant state, I was making the rounds, saying good-bye to family and friends. I happened to stop by my step-grandparents' house on the night that Ann Richards gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. As loyal, lifelong, depression-era, union democrats, they were hanging on her every word, so the good-byes had to wait until the speech was over. So, I watched.

    And slowly, as Ann Richards spoke in that slow and delicious drawl of hers, I began to realize something: I agreed with everything she said. I was a democrat. Her words have long since faded from my memory, but the moment has stayed with me.

    It was the moment that I knew it wasn't right to take what you could get from this world without giving anything back in return. It was the moment I knew that every person had value and no person should be denied opportunity based on something so arbitrary as the color of their skin or the makeup of their anatomy. It was the moment I knew that I wanted to be a part of making the world a better place.

    Twenty years later, my success on that score is mixed. If I have made the world better, I'm not sure I know how, but at least I don't think I've made it worse. And to this day, thanks to Ann Richards and one a-ha moment, I remain committed to progressive ideals and democratic candidates.



    Thanks for sharing your story! I am lucky, my parents were both strong democrats and also talked about politics with us a lot. For me, it was more the moment when I realized that not everybody was a democrat. I don't remember the moment exactly, but I know I was surprised and confused when my mother revealed that she came from... gasp!... a family of republicans.

    I dunno, I feel sort of lucky that I came to the decision on my own. My mom was really fierce about forcing me to make my own decisions and developing my independence, so maybe she did it on purpose. Sometimes I wonder if she knew she would get sick when I was so young, so she did her best to make me able to take care of myself from the start! 

    My long overdue response to your post, Orlando:

    Growing up as I did in a totally Republican family and coming of age at the time of Reagan (my first vote), I had been completely blind to the other side with prejudice. My family considered Jimmy Carter weak and ineffectual as a president, and he was the only Democratic one that I had any familiarity with.

    Maybe moving to California and leaving my family behind on the east coast for 11 years helped me form my own opinion…..NOT. I was still a Republican when I moved back to NY in 2000.

    I blame it on Plame.

    When everything came out about Plame and Wilson and the lack of WMD’s, I got really angry. I felt like my party had cheated us into an empty and meaningless war. I don’t take war lightly. I don’t believe in the death penalty because I don’t think it’s up to men to judge their fellow men to the point where they can play “God” and make life or death decisions, and I don’t believe that killing fellow men for any reason other than self-defense is necessary. So the whole war thing is what got me questioning my totally Republican outlook on life, and then meeting my nephew as he was graduating from boot camp and getting ready to go to Iraq back in 2006 helped me really see it up close and personal: Wars and battles are wrong, but our military is strong. Let’s use that might for what is right, and nothing else.

    I’m not even sure I care about us going after Osama bin Laden anymore, to be honest. But I know Obama wants to move us into Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda, and that at least makes more sense than Iraq.

    Still, I’d rather see war done away with altogether, and perhaps a good game of cricket or croquet amongst world leaders instead. Or, better yet: Basketball.

    But that ain’t gonna happen.

    I’m not a hawk, and I hate that my old party made hawks and abortions and religion and ineffectual oversight and torture and wiretapping their issues of the day. I hate that they have twisted a once grand ole party into something that hurts others and tarnishes our own country’s image.

    Luckily for me, Obama happened along just as I went shopping -- for the first time -- for a Democrat.

    I think I made a great purchase, and I’m going to help ensure that I get my money’s worth.  And so I'm grateful to people like you who worked even harder than I did to make Obama our next President.  I'm grateful for every vote he got, and for this chance to see us turn our country around and make it good again.

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