First, let’s call out the (non)elephant in the room: I am not a Republican.
Not even close.
I’m a gay-Jewish-Democrat-liberal-college-professor born and bred in the NYC area, now living in Cleveland, Ohio.
Thus, my decision to sign up as a volunteer for the Republican National Convention this July was clearly not rooted in party politics. Instead it was all about geographical pride.
A few months back, a lady on the local radio made a pitch.
“We need volunteers for the Republican National Convention!”
No thanks, Radio Lady. I’m not a Republican because, well, gay-Jewish-Democrat-liberal-college-professor.
“We need you!”
No thanks, Radio Lady. I’m not a Republican because, y’know, see above.
“This isn’t about party politics.”
Oh? Tell me more, Radio Lady!
“It’s about showcasing Cleveland and what it means to be a Clevelander!”
No thanks, Radio Lady. I’m not….Wait a second. I am. I am a Clevelander.
And not only do I live in Cleveland, but I flipping love it here. Even before the magic basketballs of the past few weeks, the phoenix-like vibe of Cleveland has been rising for years. It feels like a place where you can actually make a difference and everywhere you look there are examples of individuals doing just that, from entrepreneurial and culinary innovators to social/racial justice cavaliers doing the work that is so badly needed in this city (and every other city out there).
So, yes, Radio Lady! You convinced me! I will volunteer at the RNC! And I signed up online right away.
I told everyone I knew that I was going to be volunteering for the RNC. I wouldn’t shut up about it. Not that the people around me understood my decision. Over and over again, I had to answer the bewildered looks of my liberal friends and family with my well-rehearsed Cleveland-based volunteering rationale. I was excited. I was proud. Really, truly and obnoxiously excited and proud.
Then, one day, I wasn’t excited anymore. I wasn’t proud. And just like that, my volunteering for the RNC ended before it began.
What happened here? How had things gone downhill so rapidly? Heck, what had happened to me?!?? Here’s as much of my thought journey as I have been able to puzzle through.
Thought Journey Destination #1 – I am scared.
It only took watching the news for three minutes to have me terrified. With 20 incidents of violence documented at Trump events in the past eight months, I am genuinely fearful for what the concentration of all of the Trump angst (on both sides of the political aisle, mind you) will mean for Cleveland in July. I don’t want to physically get hurt. I don’t want anyone to physically get hurt. But I look at the news and simply do not see how violence will not come to pass. And I don’t understand why this violence has to happen.
Thought Journey Destination #2 – I am privileged.
Of course I don’t understand why this violence has to happen. Because: hello, Privilege. I am not being told my religion codes to my being a terrorist. I am not being told that my country of origin codes to my being a rapist. I am not being told that my ability codes to being mocked on national television. I am not being told that I am dangerous or less than or a threat or incompetent. Voices are being suppressed, discarded and ridiculed. It is no surprise that many are arguing that we must do significantly more than merely standing idly by.
Thought Journey Destination #3 – I am sad.
I’m one of those dorky idealists. I engage with people with dramatically different viewpoints online and I honestly think that I will be able to craft some words that will create shared understanding (my hubris plays no small role in this engagement). I loved the idea that this gay-Jewish-Democrat-liberal-college-professor would be able to volunteer for the Republican National Convention and share a connection with individuals with whom I have fundamental ideological differences. But the system and climate do not support that connection. The dialogues do not support that connection. Our candidates do not support that connection. And that makes me incredibly and irrevocably sad.
Great. Now I’m scared, privileged and sad. So what?
Look, I’m just one guy, in one city, who was on a volunteer list for a few weeks before asking to be removed. But I’m also one guy struggling to find his place in the coming months, both as someone here in Cleveland and someone who wants to wants to be able to make a difference. I know I’m not alone. I know something has to be done. And, above all else, I know that being scared, privileged and sad isn’t going to be enough to save the process, the idealism and the great city of Cleveland. All of this led me to…
Thought Journey Destination #4 – I must protest.
It is not enough to post on social media and pen a few snarky words as hordes of Republicans descend upon Cleveland in support of a man who preaches the language of division. Whereas I was once excited to be a smiling face directing Republicans to the nearest restroom facility, now I know that my role needs to be one of decrying, “No. This man is not ok. These politics are not ok.” And I need to do it as loud as I possibly can.
I need to actually push through my being scared because there are others being actively oppressed by Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric. I need to actually use my privilege to help pass the microphone to the voices that need to be amplified. And I need to continue being sad. But, instead of letting it incapacitate me, I need to actually channel my sadness into concrete action that meets discrimination with resistance.
I’m a gay-Jewish-Democrat-liberal-college-professor born and bred in the NYC area, now living in Cleveland, Ohio. I am no longer volunteering for the Republican National Convention. But I’ll still be there…just right outside.