Lately, I've been trying to figure out how and why I became a liberal.
And, to be clear, I am liberal first, Democrat second, since the Democratic candidate more often reflects more of my positions.
The question came to me because a former student, presumably for a paper/project he's writing for college, asked me about my memories of growing up during the Vietnam War. Here are some of the things I remembered, with a little mental prodding:
--one student in 7th grade getting in trouble for wearing a black arm band for a day called Moratorium. I didn't even know what the word meant.
--the long-haired kids who smoked, etc. refusing to stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance in homeroom each morning and the tension that created. I stood up.
--the placing of a Humphrey bumper sticker on my notebook because it was the closest political headquarters to my house and, succumbing to peer pressure, my altering the stick to read "I'm not for HUMPHREY, are you?
I grew up in various suburbs around white people, with the only particular diversity being neither racial nor socio-economic, but religious and ethnic. These were well-to-do places to live, upper middle class, most likely, and quite conservative. I didn't especially know that, however, having no particular politics of my own.
But by 1976, when I was in the first batch of Americans allowed to vote in their teens due to the lowering of the voting age, I voted for Mo Udall in the primary and Jimmy Carter in the general election, and off I went. So by then, I had been turned.
My own home voted for Nixon in 1960 against Kennedy; I don't know about 1964 or after, but here's maybe a clue--I'm not sure that my parents, or at least my father, voted all that often. Maybe not at all. And somehow, maybe the fact that he or they (my mother likely following his lead on this) couldn't find either candidate worth voting for was the crack that opened the door to my political understanding.
My father's parents lived about an hour from us, and they were reclusive types who only ventured from their small, western Pennsylvania town to spend a holiday with us a couple of times a year. Mostly, we went there, a dreadful proposition for a boy between the ages of 10 and 18, when all of the political turmoil and unrest was going on. For they not only didn't venture out of their town, they also did not venture outside their house, and a visit there consisted of a bland supper followed by everyone sitting in the darkened living room (a concession to my grandmother's untreated cataracts) talking about politics and society.
And maybe there was a clue there, too. For while many of my grandfather's positions could easily be branded as "racist" (my grandmother was French and never realized that All In The Family was ironic), they pointed towards improving the race as a stereotypical whole, not holding it back, although my grandfather also liked to say that what he liked about France so much (he met my grandmother there during WW1) was that "wherever you went, everyone you met was a Frenchman." Except him, of course. Xenophobia meets....
My grandparents also distrusted the government. Their issues ranged from education to food, and they were the first "health nuts" I ever knew, preaching pure foods and no chemicals and vitamins and fresh vegetable and all of that years before GNC even opened their doors.
And so for a boy who didn't spend any time on politics and who wouldn't have known which party his parents stood for without some discussion, the ideas that candidates and policies and social programs and living or working conditions could be better may just have been enough to push me away from those who wanted to maintain the status quo during the upheaval of the 60s.
NEXT: How rock and roll taught me politics.