I will never forget the 2000 presidential election during my senior year of high school. I grew up in a conservative Southeastern Oklahoma town, and like many kids who live in a bubble, remember hoping and praying that Al Gore, the ungodly heathen, did not win the presidency. At the same time, I had a deep-seated belief – and still do, in part – that bipartisanship will be the downfall of this nation.
It’s dangerous to see the world in such a black and white, this or that way. I knew that even as a young person without much worldly experience because the world isn’t cut and dried. As humans we like to categorize, compartmentalize, and assign order to things because it is the way we confront living in a world full of chaos, full of uncertainty and the unknown. Yet that’s an oversimplification.
I have previously committed to never writing about or commenting on politics publicly or on social media. I am a chronic people-pleaser and non-confrontational person, and I don’t like to rock the boat or offend anyone. Recently, I’m starting to accept that not everyone is going to like me, I am not going to like everyone, and sometimes to change the world, you have to be vulnerable and put yourself out there (thanks, Brené Brown!). So, this is me saying what I really think even though it might not be popular. There might be people that don’t like it and, therefore, don’t like me. That’s okay.
Being true to my beliefs is more important than being liked. And being part of a political party shouldn’t be about being liked. So here it is…
To the Democratic Party: I’m out.
I reject this dichotomy ― this false idea that Democrats are all good and Republicans are all bad. I believe there is good and bad inside each of us, and Democrats are not immune to all of the things they accuse Republicans of doing and being. Democrats are not immune to racism. They are not immune to sexism. They are just as complicit – I am just as complicit – in these things as the person sitting next to me. Because I’m human, because I’m flawed, and because I’m not perfect.
The past six months have felt like a continuous real-life string of Onion articles. Each day, I hear something that I think can’t get any more outlandish and crazy, and yet the next day’s news always brings an ante-up. But it’s time for us to stop blaming Donald Trump for every problem and start looking in the mirror. Because really, Donald Trump, as a product of this society, is showing us all the things that are wrong with it.
Donald Trump doesn’t hold all of the responsibility here: we, the people, do. (But if Donald Trump is reading this, don’t think that statement absolves you of the absolutely vile things you say and do. It doesn’t. And please stop Tweeting at 3 a.m.).
The same people that are blaming Donald Trump and talking about the horrendous things he does and says are often the people who are shocked that he was elected. A lot of us are not remotely shocked that Donald Trump was elected, and knew that he would be elected because he’s a mirror for the flaws that can already be spotted in U.S. society. We need to start talking about the things revealed by that mirror and how we can change them. The mirror is not the problem; the racism, sexism, and other systemic issues being reflected back to us are the issues we need to address.
Real, honest change starts with every single person. We all have a responsibility to society. A responsibility to accept that we have to start listening more. We must listen to people who are more marginalized and face more challenges that we personally face. We must be less selfish. We must not only understand, but truly care about the obstacles that other people face, and be willing to help change the way society works. That’s true for all of us: Republicans, Democrats, and everyone outside of the two-party system (like me).
Creating change will require every person to give. It might be giving financially, it might be giving emotionally or intellectually. It will certainly mean giving up some of our comfort in any of those areas. Author and research professor Brené Brown says that we must choose courage over comfort, and that is precisely what is required of us here. Politics are the way in which a society and its government makes decisions around allocating its various resources to different groups of people. I believe that there are enough resources for everyone, but people are greatly suffering because, too often, we are not willing to choose courage over comfort.
So, Democratic Party, I’m out because I am disposing of the false dichotomy that we have long worshipped. And I urge you to start listening more and stop being complacent. I’m not saying I will never vote for a Democrat again; I’m saying that we desperately need to shift the party paradigm away from a black and white, right and wrong, good and bad mentality.
Possibly my favorite thing Brené Brown has said is that “the people with the greatest capacity for discomfort are the people who rise the fastest.” We all have the ability to choose courage over comfort, and we have so many opportunities to rise together regardless of which political party we align with.
Let’s rise together.
Rhys Harper is a photographer and storyteller who lives in the South. You can follow him @rhysharper on Instagram and @rhysharperphoto on Twitter.