By Zach Oaster
The political atmosphere is very different today from what it was just a year ago. As a leftist, I was struggling with who to openly support during the primary season of 2016, because while Bernie was about as left as any Democrat in recent presidential-candidate history, he still had his establishment ties. Finally, I decided that while I was likely planning to vote for Stein in the main election, I would support Sanders both financially and politically in the primary. During this hopeful time, I also saw many disparaging Hillary Clinton for her youthful choices. She had once supported the Goldwater campaign for President (a conservative who ran against New Deal liberalism, and disparaged labor unions). Many memes floated around implying that who she was then was the same person as who she was today. This jolted me.
This notion that people cannot change is not only small-minded and cruel, but also flatly false. People do indeed change, and it is in the human-ness of the way we change that we need to remember hope in times such as today. Yes, some stagnate, but many grow. Yes, some become more hardened and conservative, but others find that life opens them up to a diversity and variety of experience that they never knew possible in their youth. Maybe today more than a year ago I think this message is incredibly important. We must keep working to change hearts and minds, and to subvert racism, xenophobic ethnocentrism, imperialism, nationalism, warmongering, and bigotry. And so, before you think that there is “no point in trying to convince them…” please, consider my story as I told it a year ago on my facebook wall…
Ya know, I'm gonna vote for Bernie in the Michigan Primary, and it is really nice that he is an old man who holds similar values to the values of his youth, but that isn't always a sign of the perfect human being. I think it is important to take care with memes that shame presidential candidates, like Clinton, for having a past which holds some wrong-headed ideas, or a past where they supported the 'wrong' candidates in their youth. Here is why I think that is a totally false construct based in my personal experience:
I was raised a socially privileged super-conservative, and I held those values, to some degree, until I was in my mid 20s. It took me over a decade as an adult to become a more critically-aware, charitable, loving, empathetic, and leftist radical person. In the meantime, I made some shitty mistakes. I voted for G.W. Bush the first time around in 2000. I voted in favor of the gay marriage ban in Michigan back in 2004. When the war in Iraq started, I argued at the time *against* a peace group that was forming and protesting war in my local church. Yep. That used to be me. I'm not proud of any of it. I did a lot of harm. But, it did indeed shape me into the person I am today. I'm honest about it because it is important to know that the journey is often as important as the destination. I know more than half a dozen of my childhood friends who will "like" this post who have taken similar paths.
I know just as many people who have been raised 'liberal' as raised 'conservative' who have no sense of critical awareness or a neighborly bone in their body. Being born into a family that espouses one or the other does not make you an inherently good or smart person. Some people are the same person in their 30s or 40s that they were in their 20s. I dare say, most of the time when that happens, it isn't a good thing. In the rare case that it is a good thing, and maybe Bernie Sanders is one of those exceptions, we need to be thankful. At the same time, let us be none too hasty to throw every other person under the bus who has learned a little by living life -- those who have become more aware of their social position, their privileged statuses, their past harms, their past views that caused those harms, etc. If you're doing it right, this is precisely the way it should work. Even Bernie, in his exulted status, certainly has grown as a person, as a citizen, as a neighbor, since he was 20 years old. So, Hillary worked for the Goldwater campaign? That sucks. I voted for George W. Bush. That sucks. It’s a good thing that neither of us would do that today. All of this makes me hopeful, because it reminds me that while change in the human heart is hard and slow, it is possible... and it is precisely that hope which drives me today to work so hard to bring others along on the journey toward community, neighborliness, and critical thinking.
Another story that I will highlight in more detail someday, but stands to be mentioned here: Looking back, there was one moment I credit with opening my mind more than any other (and there were many others). This moment was when I was on staff at a church, and I was talking to the pastor -- railing against the peace group who wanted to meet weekly in the church and talk about resisting the 2003 invasion of Iraq – and he asked me one question that changed my life. “What is so wrong with wanting peace?” I harrumphed and probably muttered some nationalistic reply. I remember that it made me mad that he would ask such a question. But, Bill Myers changed my life that day, and I didn’t even realize it until that memory surfaced in 2007 when he passed away. I never had a chance to thank him, but in my less cynical moments I can be hopeful, as he was, that those I talk to every day – on social media, through blogs like this one, and in-person – can and do change, even when that change can take years. Keep trying.
Zach Oaster is a public sociologist, shepherd, and artisan. He is a full-time graduate student of sociology at Western Michigan University as well as a longtime performer of music and organizer around social justice issues. Zach identifies as a radical queer godless apostate and heretical disaffiliated United Methodist. He prefers masculine pronouns, and has a fabulous talent for writing third person bios. Zach describes his academic research as, “exploring the conflicts within conservative political and social discourse, revealed at the intersection of neoconservative and neoliberal ideologies – especially as those discourses converge on issues important to the LGBTQIA communities.” Find out more about Zach at www.FatToaster.com, or on Facebook.com/ZachOaster