When I began writing this I was overwhelmed with the desire to hit something…or vomit. Over the coming weeks that desire has lessened to a slow simmer of absolute disgust and dismay at what has become of the party that I used to love and support. I was once a Republican living in a red state. Today I’m a registered Democrat living in a blue state. This is my story and why I left the Republican Party.
It all started in 2007. I was a 27 year-old divorced woman with no children. I was a survivor of severe domestic abuse. I was single with no money, no home and no plan other than to try and be something more than what I was. I had a car, my clothes and hope.
After moving to a new state with the help of friends, I found a very cheap apartment in a part of town that I still cringe over. My 2 jobs at minimum wage didn’t bring home enough for luxuries like choosing where to live and what to eat. There were days that I had to decide whether I was going to put gas in my car so I could get to work or eat. I always chose work. At least at one of my jobs I would get breakfast and lunch 2 days a week. I could make a $3.99 pizza with 8 slices last for 7 days. I could eat on a can of beans and a pack of crackers for even longer.
I applied to the local university in my town and went back to school while maintaining my two jobs. I took between 15-18 credit hours each semester while working. All of this was possible because of government loans and scholarships.
I went to counseling 2 times a week to work through my PTSD that was caused by the domestic violence I experienced. The church that the counselor worked out of paid for my appointments because I was too poor to pay for them and my counselor said I wouldn’t improve mentally without them.
The biggest fear during this time was that I might get physically sick and need to go to the doctor. When you’re poor, healthcare is something that you dream about. It’s something that you pray you won’t need. It’s the anxiety of “what if” that keeps you awake at night. I went to work sick. I took finals while running a 104 fever. I ruptured 3 discs in my back and couldn’t walk for a week. I wasn’t able to get it treated for 3 years. I lost one of my jobs. I found another minimum wage job. It didn’t offer health insurance.
Basic healthcare is not a luxury. It is not just for those that “deserve” it. In the country of abundance that we live in, healthcare should be affordable for every citizen. It’s reprehensible that I can buy a DVD player for less than what it would cost me to go to the doctor and get an antibiotic. Here in the United States we have some of the best medical technology and doctors in the world. Why do we think that only a few of our citizens should be entitled access to them? Why didn’t my Republican party see that? I was left with no answers.
The day I went to sign up for food stamps opened my eyes and changed everything. I had grown up in an upper middle class family. We were traditional, conservative and religious.
I need to break here for a moment and ask that as you read the “religious” part; that you would not confuse it with faith. These are 2 vastly different concepts. What some hold as religion is not the God of the Bible.
My family believed one pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps and never asked for help. It was a family that held firm to a Republican ideology that those on food stamps or “government handouts” were poor, uneducated and lazy individuals that just wanted to stay home and watch tv. These types of people were of the lowest kind. They were to be distrusted and almost hated. However, as I sat in the overcrowded room I looked around and saw people from all walks of life. You could see the desperation on their faces and the worry in every word. “I need help now. What do I do? Please help me.” There was something else that was there too…something so tangible it was overwhelming. It was shame. That oppressive shame of having to say, “I can’t do this on my own.”
I left in tears never returning. My Republican roots and their mantra echoing in my ears…”Lazy, poor, ignorant….Shame!” I told myself I would rather starve.
Throughout this time I had been listening to the candidates’ speeches in preparation for the 2008 election. I came from a very politically active family and there hasn’t been a single election that I haven’t known about and had an “opinion” on (even if it was only given to me by my parents) since I was 8 years-old and my father ran for his first public office as a Republican.
This election was different though. Not just because we potentially had our first African-American candidate, but because we had a candidate that spoke to the people about the everyday issues. We for once had a candidate who said not everyone can pull themselves up without a hand reaching out. I heard words of the civil obligation we have to each other, words of encouragement and of hope.
I went back and listened to every speech I could find that Senator Obama had made. I listened with new ears and a new heart. I was no longer the girl that had lived “easy”. I knew what hard was and I wanted a candidate that did too. I reevaluated what my own personal political beliefs were and I knew that I could no longer support the Republican platform.
In 2008 I watched as President Obama was elected. I clapped and shouted with fellow democrats at the headquarters’ watch party. It was my first election that I ever voted Democrat in. Everything had changed.
In 2009 I graduated from college with a degree in Political Science and History. I was able to get a better paying job and move into a slightly nicer part of town.
My feelings toward the Republican Party have not changed. They really are no longer Republicans. There are some moderates left, but the narrow, fear mongering voice of the party that has taken over drowns out all of those that speak truth. They have traded in a Christian belief of loving your neighbor for one that champions big business, the wealthy, and those that have no idea what struggle looks like.
Over the past few months alone we have seen how far gone the Republicans really are. 160 voted against The Violence Against Women’s Act. My party that I once loved deserted me. Not just as a woman, but as a citizen of this country. We even have a Republican, New Hampshire state Rep. Mark Warden saying “Some people like abusive relationships.” My response to him;
“I can answer truthfully that no, I didn’t like having my jaw broken or the bones in my face shattered. I didn’t like being dragged by my hair or strangled. I didn’t like the bruises, busted lips or black eyes. I didn’t like the mental and physical scars it left me with. And that’s why I left with nothing. I didn’t like having to choose between my life and my livelihood, even when your party makes it so hard for women to be on their own. I did. Now, can you please walk in my shoes for a while? My feet are awfully tired.”
When it comes to food stamps I have seen many of my Republican friends say how it’s so great that we have drug tests for food stamps and yet they’ve never given out food to the homeless or the poor. And they don’t care that the testing will cost Florida millions of dollars and thus far has only saved them $60,000. 98% of those tested have passed. It’s still the idea that everyone that needs help must be lazy and on drugs. Another lie that the Republicans would have us believe. I’m sure that there are some that fall into that category, but not all. Just like I know that not all Republicans are right-wing, gun-toting, women hating nut jobs…just some of them are.
There’s another issue that I’ve decided to add in here. I debated long and hard on it, but it needs to be talked about. It’s the issue of guns. On September 4, 1962 my grandmother was shot and killed with a .45 caliber automatic pistol. It was a gun that was obtained legally from our own US government actually. Because of this I have very strong views on gun control. Yes, I had them even as a Republican. I just kept them to myself back then. I don’t care what nationality, race, religion or party affiliation you are. When you believe that your right to own a gun is greater than another human being’s right to live, you have serious problems. I am at a loss for words as to how the very same people who wear the name of Christian are also the loudest opponents of gun control. “Jesus loves you, but please don’t take this deadly weapon from me.”
My grandmother was a model and an artist. She left behind 3 small children. One of them was my mother. How different her life would have been if our country had strong gun control laws.
People love to ask me, “How could you ever be a Democrat?” My response is always the same; “Because I know what it’s like to not be a corporation that has the ear of a well-connected Senator. I know what it feels like to not have a lobbyist organization to speak for me. I know what it’s like to be a second class citizen in a country that claims to protect the weak. I have been the woman in need of food stamps, the woman that the Violence Against Women’s Act protects. Obamacare was written for me and the millions of others just like me. I went to school on government ‘handouts.’ I want to live in a nation that values life above the cost of a bullet.“
My friends, I didn’t leave the Republican Party. They abandoned me years ago.