Navigating the current political climate is exhausting, but, sometimes, I quietly raise my voice.

A couple of months ago, a family member’s FB post tipped my ink bottle. The post has been lodged in my writer’s craw for over two months, because the topics, emotions, and truths are complex.

Social media is a weak forum for insightful conversation about any complex topic, especially meaningful political, religious, or social justice discussion. When you’re not preaching to the choir, the quick scroll or the «hide» button silence you. Or worse, your post becomes a free-for-all mud slinging tangle. I crave coherent conversations about difficult topics. Unfortunately, even in person, the rhetoric of both sides seems to take over any such effort. Yet I make the effort.

I quietly raise my voice.

Many have taken to expressing their political views via memes. Memes range from outrageously funny to excruciatingly offensive. A meme that provokes hilarity in one inspires rage in another. This happens to people from all sides. As far as I can tell, rebuttals most often descend into a cat fights, which is largely why I refrain from responding publicly when people I love post memes or say things on social media that disturb me. From time to time, I’ll respond quietly through a private message, a practice that has wildly varied results. Sometimes the message leads to conversations that bring us closer. Sometimes I get clocked. But I quietly raise my voice.

The generalizations that are hurled between both sides, often in the form of exercising “conservative” and “liberal” as accusations, are not only hurtful and inaccurate, they impede the integrity of the conversation we need to have. But we need to have that conversation. A conversation that traverses the divide. It’s hard work. I find it especially hard as a liberal in a primarily conservative family, but in fairness, a conservative in a primarily liberal family might feel just as much discomfort as I do.

The political divide

So that’s out. I’m a liberal and most of my family is not. The liberal/conservative divide, however, is not so simple. I would say I’m religiously, socially, and economically liberal. My family includes my opposite: religiously, socially, and economically conservative. Some in my family, however, are socially and religiously liberal but economically conservative. Others are socially liberal, economically conservative, but religiously mute. As I branch out to describe aunts, uncles, cousins, and their spouses and children, the spectrum becomes increasingly complex.

Not that it’s a thing, but I find it fairly straightforward to label the politics of members of my family. Sadly, talking politics with family members is not. Conversations are difficult, sometimes forbidden. The “no politics” policy in my parents’ home has been good and bad, but part of me is screaming: “No fair!! Are you making peace or avoiding questions about your choices?”

Clowns to the left of you, Jokers to the right

Let’s start with the right. I have so many questions. Many are downright How can you . . . ? accusatory questions, like How can you when he mocked a disabled man? belittled a Gold Star family? repeatedly demeaned women in televised interviews and recorded conversations? refused to make public his tax returns? The list goes on. During the campaign, I was drowning in the hate speech and his invitations to violence against others.

I remember a drowning feeling when Obama took office, but it was different. After Obama’s election, we were drowning in fabrications: Obama’s birth certificate, religious affiliation, citizenship, Kenya. For years, whenever I traveled to my parents’ home, I would pass an Interstate billboard declaring that our president was the anti-Christ. I was drowning in what others said about Obama. For the last few months, the drowning waters have been Trump’s own words, not words fabricated about him.

Lest the left feel haughty, my dismay is not solely about those who support a bully billionaire. I’m also weary of the finger-pointing on the left. Fingers that accuse others of violence through silence. Fingers that accuse those who didn’t march, as well as those who did if they didn’t do it “right.” Fingers that point should an ally trip over the nuances of language in racial and social issues. Fingers that accuse and forget the value of the diversity of our voices. Fingers that jerk like knees and point before the ears have a chance to listen. Sometimes I have a hissy fit in my head: not all voices are raised in public venues, not all messages are delivered in marches on a sign, not everybody does it like that!

Stuck in the middle with me

I have to draw the line. Not between the left and the right. Not between myself and others, but rather for myself, to create that space where I quietly raise my voice.

My power is within me. I don’t gain control nor enter conversation by calling you to the mat for how you voted or how you pointed your finger. I can, however, control what I say and do. I can control how I act and interact. That’s when I quietly raise my voice. That’s how I have that difficult conversation with a family member. When conversation is impossible, that’s why I love you anyway and harder.2016 election ballou quote

I don’t draw the line to separate us. We’re all in this together, left and right, black and white, gay and straight. I draw the line to remind myself to focus on what I can do rather than on trying to control what others do and think. I draw the line to define and express what I’m for, not to rant about what I’m against. I draw the line to find strength in my blessings rather than wallow in my disappointments. I do these things not because they’re better than what others do, but because that’s how I come into the conversation. That’s how I hear the voices of others. That’s where I quietly raise my voice.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved 2017