I wrote in more general terms in an earlier post. So what about me and my politics? Would I have turned out liberal? How liberal? And if I had, where would I belong in North Platte?
Would I have turned out liberal? How liberal?
This is just a guess, but I imagine I would still have grown up to be a liberal, just perhaps not quite as liberal as I am. This begs for elaboration and details. How liberal am I? When I took the various political assessment quizzes that proliferated on Facebook in the last year, I usually scored in the 90's on my agreement with both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Long before I knew anything about government or politics, I knew that deliberate unfairness was wrong. Telling me I couldn't be a cowboy when I grew up because I was a girl was wrong. I didn't want to be a cowBOY in the gender sense, I wanted to do what cowboys did -- I wanted to be a cowhand, and complete in the rodeo. Cowgirls in the movies that I saw were seldom cowhands. All they let women do in the rodeo when I was little was barrel racing and beauty contests. I didn't know the history of women in rodeo then, but now I do, and it gives me yet another reason to dislike Gene Autry. The more I learned what society expected of me because I was female, the more it chafed. The more I questioned my religion, the more the idea of the United States and Americans being God's special pets bothered me. Unfair and wrong.
The timeline of experiences that opened my eyes to the inequalities in our society is a long one, and surely would have been different if I always lived in North Platte. I was probably a feminist by the age of six, because of the cowboy thing and all the times I wasn't allowed to play with my brother and his friends because I was a girl. (My brother, to his credit, usually stuck up for me, even though he usually lost.)
I rejected the religious prejudices of my mother when we moved to New Jersey and my best friends were Jewish and Catholic. The racism I observed in Port Norris, my father's boyhood home in the salt marshes of southern New Jersey, combined with televised images of violence and courage during the civil rights movement started me on a very long journey to understand our nation's tragic racial history. I met my first openly gay and lesbian friends in college in the late 60s, working in the university theater. I can't even recall my first Muslim contacts, but it was probably during the 80s, when my department had two faculty members who had immigrated after the revolution in Iran. I have had at least one transgender friend in my social circle for at least twenty years, and my research into clothing and gender has been powerfully influenced by LBGTQ family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, artists, and writers. The one important omission in this list is Native American rights; I do believe I would be better informed about that history and current issues if I had lived in Nebraska instead of living in a series of states with lots of indigenous place names and not much else. (The exception: knowing the leader of the Iroquois Nation, Leon Shenandoah, because his day job was the custodian at the Syracuse Drama department.)
I believe government has a vital role to play in supporting progressive social and political change, including the right of all people to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" and the rights set out in the Constitution. Slavery was not just bad, it was wrong. Breaking treaties with the First Nations was (and is) wrong). I think the Constitution is a living document intentionally written to be amended and interpreted. I believe that every word was chosen very carefully by humans who existed in a particular time and place, and who knew they could not imagine the future, much less see it. So when they say the purpose of the Constitution is "to form a more perfect Union", I take that to mean that they saw perfection as a goal, a trajectory, not an accomplished fact. Some part of the original document were flawed -- limiting voting rights to men with property, for example, and were remedied by amendment. The 18th Amendment was quickly seen as a mistake and was eventually repealed. The 2nd Amendment needs to be revisited because it is the clearest example of an artifact of our early history that is no longer serving us well.
Where would I belong in North Platte?
Here's what I think: I would have left for college and never come back.
Some of the lessons I learned in New Jersey and later might have come my way somehow, anyway, because I believe I was already inclined to be open to them.The more I learned -- the more I have learned -- the harder it would have been to return to that bubble. I would have yearned for the sky, the land, the tastes and aromas of home. I would have missed the open friendliness. But I would have also known that beneath that friendly neighborliness was often a wary distance. The bubble is preserved at the expense of real communication. My mother was like that, bless her heart. It was impossible to have an actual heart-to-heart with her about our differences. If you touched on a sensitive topic, she just slid away. I would find it hard to live and work in that bubble.
Now, maybe I am wrong. There are people like me in North Platte, and they have found a way to be there and not give up themselves. That's a question for the next visit, I guess.