I saw this yesterday, while I was lazing around and it seemed to sum up something essential about where I live. Simply put, people around here don’t like George W very much. And they are fine saying so. All the time.
The car sporting this bumper sticker was an old, dusty Volvo, protected by someone’s Triple A membership. It’s okay around here to drive an old car. Volvos go without saying. Let’s not discuss the latte. (I must say, though, that a child at one of my twins’ school said, when he saw my husband’s beat- up old BMW pull into the carpool pick up line, “My playstation cost more than your dad’s car.” He wasn’t from Berkeley.)
Pretty soon the Berkeley City Council is going to offer some kind of referendum about whether or not we should impeach President Bush. It’s the sort of thing people in the rest of the country love to laugh about. And it really can be terribly irritating and holier than thou around here.
But I still love living in Berkeley. There is the most fabulous food to be had right down the street. We live in a garden of Eden, the place where so many lovely fruits and vegetables are grown, quite a few of them organic. Plus, the view from the hill I hike up is stupendous. There are so many great independent bookstores it’s hard to decide where to go to buy a book. It smells like jasmine at night. And the things that grow like weeds in my yard are actually sort of exotic like Meyer Lemons and bougainvillea. There’s windsurfing out our door, for those who windsurf (all males in our family windsurf. I do not.) The mountains are beautiful. Did I mention the food?
Which brings me to my topic today and no, it is not food: where on earth do we get our political ideas? How did I grow up to be the openly liberal person I am, when several, very smart, kind people in my family are not?
Growing up, I always thought my father was an impressively liberal person. By that, I mean he exuded a distrust of authority (probably because of his experiences in the military) and he believed in the power of the written word. You could tell because he spent a lot of time sitting in a comfortable brown chair reading things like Russian grammars and Nietzsche. He shocked us all when he decided he was an atheist. (It was 1970. My mother had always marched all five of us children to church every Sunday without fail. My father sat in the car and read the paper while we went to mass. It was a fine example of religious tolerance.)
I probably read more into my father’s admiration for Rush Limbaugh and dislike of Democrats than I should. Maybe what he doesn’t like about Democrats is that they’ve failed to really follow through on their promises of creating a better society. The Republicans have never made any such promises, so there’s nothing to resent about them. Not everyone in my family is a Republican. My mother doesn’t say a lot about how she votes except to suggest that she sees her role as cancelling out my father’s vote.
No one ever told me how to vote or which political party to join. Because I live in Berkeley now, I get some grief from a few of my siblings for being reflexively, unthoughtfully liberal. It’s true: it’s never occurred to me to be any other way. I think I’ve chosen my political path for the simple reason that I feel happier being a liberal, when that means being generous, trusting, community-oriented, and accepting of differences. I’m well aware that Republicans can share those very same qualities. Sometimes the differences lie in how those ideals are executed. It’s also true that I’m embarrassed by the preachiness and stupid ideas, by the elitism, and the cowardice of the Democrats. But those are qualities shared by both parties, which is to say that Democrats don’t have a monopoly on being sheep-like or stupid.
What interests me is how our children will turn out. My own sons don’t like George Bush, the way you don’t like the “other” sports team. But they haven’t at all sorted out what they think. They’re beginning to though. Yesterday, one of my older boys wanted to go into San Francisco to take part in a rally “against America.” That really bothered me. I told him that he’s an American, and he can’t really rally against his own country. The country is not its government. In fact, demonstrating against the government is as American as baseball. Turns out, it was a march designed to protest our government’s refusal to do anything meaningful to stop genocide in Darfur. And it took place during school hours.
The answer: no last minute rallies, and hardly ever when there’s school. I wonder how many other parents in America had to make up a rule like that, on the spot, yesterday afternoon? And that’s the last thing I love about living here: it’s a rich and complicated environment in which to grow up. My kids have to think about homelessness because they know homeless people, they think about race, because we live in a racially mixed environment, they know about wealth and its problems and benefits because there are a lot of wealthy people around here, and they see it butting up against poverty in a way that just calls out for some kind of explanation. It’s an explanation I imagine they’ll have to come up with for themselves. And maybe it won’t be the one I end up with. But they will get to their political views thoughtfully, I hope. And that’s really all you can ask.