At the big family gatherings of my childhood, there was no such thing as a kid’s table. All of us children were handed plates of food, sprinkled between the adults, who were primed for disciplinary pokes and pinches, and then prodded to join the conversation. Which was often about politics.
It was sometimes nerve wracking, those family dinners. Really, I just wanted pie. With extra whipped cream. Not so much a blow-by-blow of the Watergate break-in, or the shenanigans of gerrymandering or the debate on whether the private sector should run state prisons. Pie. Fortunately, my dad would tuck me in bed every night with a good half hour round-up from Newsweek so I was somewhat prepared to answer the questions that got batted around the table. “Holly, do you think President Ford should have pardoned Nixon?” “No,” I said, “because he obviously did a bad thing. And lied about it. The sweat on his upper lip tells me so,” I said, as I swiped at the sweat on my upper lip. I was eleven. I’d already been to several marches. And pumped my tiny fist. And stood outside polling stations (100 feet for sure!) and handed out flyers. “Vote for my dad.” I loved Election Day best because it meant a new dress and shiny patent leather shoes.
Shaped early by these political discussions, I shouldn’t be surprised then, when someone points to me across a table and says, “you make everything political.” Or when, at the last yoga workshop I attended in Santa Fe, the teacher said, “We often talk about what our role is here at the school. Should we take a stand? Or should we keep politics out of it?” Silence. Then I burst out, “How can you NOT take a stand. My God, everything is at risk. We can’t afford to be silent, as teachers, or as students.” You could have heard a mala bead drop. Not one of the 20 people in that room said a word. It was the yoga equivalent of detention. Here, of course, I could launch a debate about whether yoga teacher trainings have become embedded in the spiritual wash of white privilege, but that’s a blog for another time.
When did “political” become such a dirty word? An accusation, something to be avoided. For me “political”means being an active citizen in my country and a steward of my planet. It means educating myself and engaging with others who may or may not agree with me. It means resisting the forces that are trying to divide us with fear and hate while remaining hopeful and forward thinking. It means marching.
Truth is, I come from a long line of marchers. I marched with my Aunt Eleanor for Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Union.”Boycott lettuce, boycott grapes, boycott wine that Gallo makes.” (That catchy little chant got me in trouble when I took it to 3rd grade…the mention of wine, not boycott). I marched with my Aunt Fabi for women’s rights and equal pay. I marched with my Aunt Priscilla to increase teachers’ salaries. I marched with my parents when they were raising money for a women’s crisis center. I marched at the University of Washington with a sign that said, “US Out of El Salvador” and later at the University of New Mexico with a sign that said, “Stop Police Violence.” And now, I march to Resist and Persist. I feel like that old lady in the much publicized photo, holding a sign that says, “I cannot believe I still have to protest this shit!” But I do and I will.
Perhaps, too many of us confuse “politics” with identity politics, which, by it’s nature can be divisive and fueled by fear of the unknown, the Other. But talking about politics, every day, should not be exhausting, or a hassle to avoid on Facebook or at the dinner table. It can be where we expose our shared concerns. I don’t need to mine the roots of my identity to send a message (woman, tree-hugger, straight, Hispanic, meat-eater, gluten friendly) because there are already too many shared points of contact (health insurance please, a fair tax code, clean air and water, national parks, better public education).
We have to keep talking politics, at least until the most basic of our rights is better utilized, the vote. Because regime change will only happen if more people vote. Nearly 40% of eligible voters did NOT vote in the last presidential election, and the turnout of black and hispanic voters in key states was pretty dismal. One theory posited by social psychologists in The New York Times…children raised in households where current events are not part of the day to day dialogue (more common in non-white households) do not understand citizenship. And grow up to feel powerless in a system that often seems confusing and isolating.
So what do you say. Let’s build some voters, some citizens. Let’s take our kids marching with us. Let’s bring our kids to the table and talk to them about politics. Educate them about how democracy works so that someday, we might live in one again. Then of course, give them pie. They’ve earned it.