I turn 26 years old this Wednesday, which means that — thanks to a poorly timed November birthday — this election will mark only the second presidential election in which I am voting. Despite the fact that I couldn’t vote in 2008, though, I was still heavily involved in the campaign efforts for John McCain and Sarah Palin.
At the ripe old age of 17, I thought — like most 17-year-olds do — that I had it all figured out, and so I made my support of these two mavericks well-known. I made phone calls, I knocked doors, I got into high school hallway screaming matches, and I without a doubt pissed off my long suffering AP Government teacher every day that first semester. I was... insufferable. I just didn’t know it at the time.
At the age of 17, the world was my oyster. I grew up privileged ― white, upper middle class. I went to a top high school in the country and was headed to a top college that next year. I had never wanted for anything. I had never been without. And, so, the vision of America that John McCain and Sarah Palin had for America was something that I identified with. Because I wasn’t affected by LGBTQ or women’s issues, aligning myself with candidates who were both against gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose didn’t bother me. I didn’t care about those things... and, dare I say, those people. I cared about myself.
At the age of 17, the world was my oyster. I grew up privileged ― white, upper middle class. ... But I’m 25 now. And, as most 25 year olds have, I’ve seen some shit.
I cared about my ― nay, my father’s ― money being ripped out of my ― nay, his ― hands and redistributed to the “poor” and the “lazy” and the “entitled.” The thought of helping other people, of being an advocate for those in need, of looking out for my fellow Americans regardless of their race, sexual orientation, education background, or socioeconomic status was of unimportance to me. I was doing just fine. Everyone else should figure it out, fend for themselves, and ― since I’m already sounding like the world’s most entitled white girl, I’ll just go ahead and say it ― get on my level.
Fast forward eight years. I’m 25 now. And, as most 25 year olds have, I’ve seen some shit.
That privileged white girl went from upper middle class to straight up poor the moment she walked across that college graduation stage and had her father’s gold AmEx ripped from her well-manicured fingers. That bratty, entitled young woman went from growing up in a suburban community where everyone looked and acted just like she did to living in a big city with people who didn’t look and didn’t think and didn’t act like her — and she befriended them. That sheltered girl heard stories firsthand about what it’s like to experience racism or bigotry, of what it’s like to make that gut-wrenching decision to terminate a pregnancy. That girl opened her eyes.
But it didn’t happen overnight.
In 2012, I took my self-polished and most likely chipped manicured hands and moved to Tampa, Florida to run a victory office for Mitt Romney. My political — and worldly — beliefs were evolving. Unlike during the last presidential election, I now believed in marriage equality, in a woman’s right to choose, and in — dare I say it — universal health care.
I had seen struggle. And, as a poor postgrad making $2,000 a month, I was starting to experience it. Still, I believed in Republican ideals ― in a strong national defense, in a free market economy, in our right to bear arms, in states’ rights, in American exceptionalism. Social issues weighed heavily on my heart, but I never believed that Roe v. Wade would be overturned, and with a pretty progressive Supreme Court, that marriage equality was soon on its way. And so I worked for the Republican National Committee in Florida. I put blood, sweat and so, so, so many tears into that campaign.
It was at that moment, consumed by anger and terror and a little bit of nausea, I made the decision to leave the Republican party.
When the election was called and Mitt Romney conceded, I shed (yet another) tear and then moved on. I cried because my hard work hadn’t paid off, because I had failed. I did not cry because I feared for our country. Such a thought never so much as crossed my mind.
I went on to work on a few more campaigns. We lost. Every time. And yet, still, I never felt fear. Disappointment? Sure. But fear? Absolutely not. And I never felt it until this past spring when it became clear that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president of these United States. And it was at that moment, consumed by anger and terror and a little bit of nausea, I made the decision to leave the Republican party.
For years, I had been lying to myself about being a Republican, and so in a way I’m thankful that Donald Trump is my former party’s nominee. Hearing his sexist, racist, xenophobic rhetoric made me realize that I am better than I was eight years ago. That I will no longer be in a party that spews hatred.
I’ve grown a lot in these past eight years. And two weeks ago, via absentee ballot, I shed a tear as I for the first time in my life voted for a Democrat. It was a surreal moment and I felt as though I was saying goodbye to my former self.
To the people who have helped guide me on this political path: thank you.
To those I’ve misrepresented and angered in the past: I apologize.
And to those 17 year old girls reading this right now: I’ll see you on the other side soon.