I have proudly called myself a Democrat since before I knew its meaning. As the daughter of two hippies who married atop a grassy mountain in renaissance type garb, the idea of not being "liberal" has always shaken me to my very core. I have predominantly mingled in strictly Democratic circles and whenever I would meet a Republican, his or her conservative views perplexed me. I would almost look at this person as though he or she were from another planet. The feud between Democrats and Republicans is one that runs much deeper and more vicious than that of the Red Sox/Yankees. We choose our political label as though it were a sports team and we hold on to it, cemented in our shoes, without blinking.
As I grew older, I stepped into the responsibility of learning what it means to be a Democrat. I support gun control, gay marriage, and a woman's right to choose. Perhaps one of the values that I hold nearest and dearest is allowing and encouraging progressive change. In order to support forward advances, we must keep our eyes and minds open, rather than being so stubbornly stuck in our ways. This is a lesson I learned recently, even though I have long lived believing I was perfectly open-minded. My kick in the pants occurred when, on assignment with Extra TV, I visited Governor Chris Christie at a town hall meeting.
We drove two hours from Manhattan to the little town of Manahawkin. Held in a church, the atmosphere of the meeting was warm and hopeful, with a strong sense of unity. Before the governor spoke, I mingled amongst the large crowd with my microphone, asking about losses from the storm, questions they wanted answered by Christie, and whether they approved of their governor's performance. While many of the stories shared were horrific, a delightful and optimistic New Jersey spirit welcomed me. These constituents have been through hell and back but predominantly view their leader as a "Jersey boy." "He is one of us," one woman shared, "and he will fight for us."
Christie arrived and began his speech. Encircled by his fellow New Jerseyans, his demeanor was tough yet compassionate, atypical for many politicians. He owns the floor and commands the room, yet you never forget that he is simply a "Jersey boy." After he spoke, he answered many questions, always addressing the person by name and giving a thoughtful response. Although he appeared to have a command of most subjects, he was not afraid to admit when he did not know certain answers, and always promised to find a solution to the best of his ability.
As I was listening to Christie's impassioned speech, I became completely wrapped up in his connection with his constituents. I tweeted:
"At town hall meeting listening to @GovChristie with @extratv This man is the people's governor."
I immediately began receiving scathing remarks from my liberal friends and followers, telling me to do some fact checking and highlighting some of his conservative views that I, too, find objectionable. As my fellow Democrats reeled me back in, I felt a surge of guilt and embarrassment. How could I have said something so positive about this man who walks on the other side? Comments about Christie's advocacy for Washington's $60 billion dollar Sandy relief bill, that had just passed the night before, drew me back to the meeting. I again refocused on the governor to see that he is neither a demon nor an enemy. He is simply a man who cares tremendously about restoring his state.
Caring is always in short supply in our world and we rarely see true empathy among our political leaders. Christie is not a typical Republican. He has courageously fought against his own party for the best interest of his storm-ravaged state. He also, publicly united with President Obama after Sandy, even though the presidential election was looming. This brought to mind a quote that I read in my yoga class, "A hero is someone who does what needs to be done when it needs to be done regardless of the consequences" (anonymous). This is a man I may not see eye-to-eye with, but his actions and spirit, post-Sandy are heroic.
Since Superstorm Sandy, I have volunteered for relief work, especially alongside my Extra colleagues. We visited devastated towns to deliver everything from coats to cellphones, socks and water, to food and portable toilets. We interviewed many storm victims, and no one mentioned gay marriage, guns or abortion politics -- rather, they were sharing how cold, scared, hungry and desperate they felt. Democratic and Republican "teams" didn't matter, only survival and regaining fundamental dignity. When you witness this level of loss and desperation, labels disappear. What remains is the necessity of creating a union, fighting fiercely for our neighbors in need. This said, Governor Christie is a hero to me. Not on every political issue, but for his passion and determination to rebuild New Jersey.
During my interview with Christie after the meeting, he impressed me as a man who simply wants to do right by the residents of New Jersey. He represents the spirit and actions of many heroes who stepped up in the wake of the storm--the first responders, the volunteers, and the everyday people who understood the priority of helping others. In this time of need, I urge all of us to put aside some of our differences -- not only with the Governor, but also with each other. Let us be heroes and do what needs to be done in the order it needs to be done. Stay present, see the tasks at hand, and create a union of support so that we can rebuild New Jersey now.
During such difficult periods, Democrats and Republicans must be on the same team. Maybe we can learn to truly see and listen to one another without labels, fear and stubbornness.
Idealistic? Possibly. But I cannot think of any change that didn't begin with a dream.