Saturday, May 20, 2017

Crossing the Political Divide: My Conversation with an Unlikely Trump Voter

This month I was in Washington DC to do a little rabble-rousing with Congress. My friend Sandy Phillips and I caught a cab back to Dulles airport, and that's when we met our cab driver, Yamir. Yamir asked what we were in town for, and I told him we work to prevent gun violence and lobby for stronger gun laws. He thought that was great, and was in full support of our mission. Assuming that Yamir was not born in America, due to his very thick accent, I made some offhand comment about Trump being a jerk.  That's when Yamir said, "Actually, I voted for Trump."

I was floored. I couldn't understand how a black, immigrant man could possibly have voted for a President who so clearly did not represent his best interests, so I asked Yamir why he voted for him. We had the most interesting 45-minute conversation on the way to the airport.

Yamir immigrated here legally from Ethiopia 20 years ago. He lives in Virginia, is married and has 4 kids. He and his wife are hard working and make a combined 100k. He has always voted Democrat, but he said that Obamacare in Virginia set his family back about $5k a year. This really upset him. Also, he is Orthodox Christian and even though he is not so much practicing, he says it's ingrained in him because it's how he was raised and it's his culture, so gay marriage was hard for him to accept. I listened to him with respect, and then I offered up my personal story of my Baptist preacher dad and my two gay brothers. I told him that it's easy for my Dad to accept my brothers for who they are because Jesus taught us to love and not judge each other. 

He really listened to what I had to say, and agreed that my argument had merit. He said that his wife and his son, who is a student at Boston University, tried to talk him into voting for Hillary,and that they had almost convinced him until the Comey letter. That's what pushed him over the edge. Now he totally regrets his vote. He told me how angry he is about the racists in the administration, the billions we're paying for Trump's golf trips, Trump's lack of intelligence, and the Russian collusion. He sees now that he was duped, and I told him I really respected him for having the courage to be honest about it. We had the most productive, respectful, intelligent conversation, and shook hands at the end. 

I truly believe that sharing our stories is what will save this country, whether it's about gun violence, healthcare, women's issues. I hope you will share your stories, and let others know why your personal politics have value to you. Let's keep the conversations going.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Letter to My Teenage Self

Dear Teen Self,

Remember that muggy, summer afternoon when you and your friends sat in a circle on your bedroom floor, your fingers raking through the tired, flattened shag carpet while you all pondered whether you’d still be alive in the year 2000?  (And then the silence that followed while you tried to do the math in your heads?) I’m here to tell you that you made it. As the clock struck midnight at the turn of the century, you were in Las Vegas with your husband and kids. You had just turned 37. Ancient, I know. No flying cars or teleporters, as you all had imagined. But then, you never imagined the internet. You also never imagined you’d be happy.

I guess I should introduce myself. I’m you, at 53. (Ancient, I know.) I traveled back through time to tell you a few things that just might have changed your life. The first and most important thing is this: although life looks bleak, everything really is going to be okay. It is. It’s not going to be easy, not by any stretch, but it’s going to be worth it. You’ll see.

In the meantime, here are a few other things I want you to know.

You are perfectly fine, just the way you are. Forget your Herbal Life diets and your Ayds appetite suppressants and your bust exercisers (and the chant that goes with it: we must, we must, we must develop our bust). One day, when the internet comes along, you’ll be able to do your own research about what’s healthy, and you will find out that (contrary to your mother’s opinion) 125 pounds at 5’5” is not overweight. So, that’s one thing. And being small breasted, though great fodder for boys to make jokes, will be a godsend as you get older and gravity takes its toll. Also, blow it off when the boys in high school call you “facehead” because of your round face. Sure, it makes you look younger now, but it will also make you look younger later, and that’s what counts. (A little insider info: those boys will drunkenly hit on you at your 20th high school reunion, anyway. But I digress.) Bottom line: You’re young. Enjoy your young, imperfect body. One day you’ll be deeply nostalgic for it. 

Wear sunscreen. Please. Your 53-year-old face bears five deep scars from skin cancer surgeries. Don’t bake in the sun trying to be someone you are not. Let the boys express horror and shock and pretend to be blinded by your pasty white legs. Let them call you Casper the Ghost as much as they like. In a few years, punk rock and Madonna are going to come along and make pasty white cool, anyway. And then you’re really going to regret those blistering sunburns that kept you laid up in bed. That tan that you worked so hard for will one day turn to wrinkles and age spots and leave you on a cozy, first-name basis with your dermatologist. Trust me on this one.
After the fifth skin cancer surgery. Not worth the teen tan.

Be you. The only true job you have in this life is to be your authentic self – exactly who you are, flaws and all. I know there’s no way you’re going to tell your cheerleading squad that your dad’s doing time in San Quentin and your single mom works nights in a bar. That’s okay for now. The “little miss perfect” thing will soon grow old, and those superficial friends who accepted you will eventually abandon you. One day in the future, you’ll have the courage to tell the world who you really are, and it’s only then, when you show your flaws and vulnerability, that your true friends will find you. These friends will stay forever. And the greatest friend you will ever have? That would be you. So take good care of yourself. Treat yourself well. Be kind to yourself -- never judgmental, critical or cruel -- because the world will reflect back the the way you treat yourself. I really wish you had known this a lot sooner.

Some bad things are going to happen, and that’s okay. Your parents might let you down, disappoint or even abandon you. Some friends will betray you. There will be times that you will be broke. A troubled, stupid boy, or maybe a parade of them, will break your heart, and you won’t even believe it’s possible to hurt that bad and still be alive (wait until childbirth). People you love will get sick. People you love will die. And there will be moments that your life feels so hopeless and pointless that you won’t want to live. But you will, and please do. There are things in store for you - miracles, things you never could have imagined - that will blow your mind. I promise you, you’re not going to want to miss it, so hang on.

And finally, don’t sleep with that guy. You know the one I’m talking about- the one you know isn’t right for you, but you’re trying to make it right because you are so desperate to be loved. I’m telling you, it’s not going to end well, and you’re going to suffer the fallout from it for decades. So please…don’t do that. You deserve better. And if you’ll just be patient, one day “better” will show up. That’s a guarantee.

Oh, and one more thing. SMILE in your senior picture. Who cares if you have braces. You look better when you’re happy. That will always be true.

With love (and I finally mean that),

Your Ancient 53-Year-Old Self