The year was 2002 and the country was still on the patriotic heels of 9/11. I was working as a Legislative Aide in the New York State Assembly in Albany, NY for a Democrat representative. My days were spent writing constituent letters, meeting with lobby groups and researching bills. I made $20,000 a year, and hence, survived on McDonalds value meals and tiny bottles of Jack Daniels.
I liked my job -- after all, who can really say they actually USE a Political Science degree? But I wanted more. More money, that is. I wanted to at least upgrade to Subway and Jameson.
I don’t remember how the offer came to me; it was one of those friend-of-a-friend situations where some kind soul remembered meeting me and decided I was worthy of a phone interview for a political position in Seattle. I prepared for the phone interview not knowing much about the job except for the fact it more than doubled my current salary.
In talking to my interviewer, I soon realized that this job was with the Dark Side, the Enemy, the Republicans. The Washington State Republican Party to be exact. They were looking for a Finance Director, someone who would be responsible for managing their major donor program and fundraising efforts -- someone who would bring in money to fund all Republican candidates under the giant circus tent of Republicrazy.
Of course, I laughed it off and knew that I wouldn’t take the job. I had worked for Republicans for brief stints in the past but this was a real commitment. This would mean that I was joining the team. I would wear the jersey and cheer in the stands. I would be one of them.
Except I wasn’t one of them. I had never voted Republican. Despite the rush of Amurrica, Fuck Yeah sentiment that was swilling about like a thick cloud of Drano, I considered myself quite liberal. And so when an offer was made, though I told them I’d ponder it, I knew my answer was no.
Until my boyfriend at the time, a newspaper reporter more liberal than myself, looked me dead in the eye and said “Why not?” I believe the analogy he made was of a little kid growing up dreaming of being a baseball player. When the kid gets an offer to play for the majors, is he going to turn it down because he grew up a Yankees fan and the job was for the Red Sox? I couldn’t argue with that.
Within two weeks, we threw away about 27 bongs, packed my boyfriend’s car with all of our earthly possessions, and sped cross country to Seattle -- a city I had never even visited -- to begin a new, Republican life.
The next 3 years are somewhat of a blur, perhaps because I’ve blacked a lot of it out. But moments emerge in my memory that paint a picture of what it was like to feel like a political spy. I remember driving around the state collecting huge checks from Republican donors. I remember Secret Service telling me that I had "compromised national security" after giving out a bit too much info on a dignitaries visit. I remember being surrounded at conferences by groups of women praying for my soul because I mentioned I was pro-choice. I remember the cold damp feel of then Vice President Dick Cheney’s hand shaking mine (shiver!)
I remember being a social outcast -- whenever I attempted to go out or make non-work friends I dreaded the moment I would have to tell them what I did for a living. A 24-year-old female just trying to have a beer in a bar became a lightning rod for anger, judgment and pity, when it was revealed that she held a job with a certain political party.
In a city as liberal as Seattle, I might as well have walked around with a sandwich board that said “Just fucking tell me what I’m doing wrong, repeatedly and with vigor.” And of course I was afraid to reveal to my employers the extent of my own personal political beliefs.
I remember other things, too. I remember the moment I realized that there could in fact be a gay Republican. Then I met some pro-choice Republicans WHO MADE SENSE. It became agonizingly clear to me that -- even if I didn’t agree with all of the policies -- that…..unbelievably, inconceivably…..Republicans were PEOPLE TOO. They ordered Thai food for lunch. They watched the Simpsons. They got drunk and murdered Karaoke versions of Warrant's “Heaven.” They cared about what they believed in, and much of it ended up overlapping what I believed in too, what I had previously thought could only be contained in the tightly shut box labeled “DEMOCRAT.”
And as my office was protested during the Abu Ghraib scandal, as my Dae Woo hatchback was keyed by John Kerry supporters, as I was the recipient of eye-rolls and side-eyes form my peers in bars, it hit me. Political parties mean nothing.
And, most importantly, the ignorance of the left -- the blind judgment, the name-calling, the prejudice against policy one has no actual knowledge of -- is just as detrimental as the ignorance of the right -- the blind judgment, the name-calling, the prejudice against policy one has no actual knowledge of.
When focus is on the Party -- the team, the logo, the jersey -- and not the individual, we all lose. As is true with ANY generalized judgments based on class, gender or race. After several years there, I just as suddenly quit, packed up my tiny car with all of my earthly possessions, and hightailed it to New York City, where I did not have a job, an apartment or any idea what I was going to do.
Eight years later I’m still here, in a different field, and happy. But when I allow myself to get involved in a political discussion and I hear sweeping, misled statements -- jokes about how stupid and backwoods Republicans are, or how Democrats are a bunch of idiot hipster douchebags, I wish that everyone involved had gotten a taste of my Atticus Finchiness, a moment to actually walk in the cramped shoes of a regimented political ideal.
Once you step inside, you realize that humans are more than labels, and that the five seconds it takes to listen is more powerful that the five seconds it takes to judge