"Think about it from their point of view." she would often respond when I would ask why a certain group of people acted a certain way. And she would point out how some people were raised differently, or how their life circumstances gave them a different point of view than I had. And my mind would expand from it's tiny little center of judgement to a greater acceptance of our many differences.
Unfortunately for our country, not everyone had a mom like mine.
It seems like every year we are increasingly divided. Red states vs blue states. Liberals vs conservatives. Pro-choice vs pro-life. Pro-vax vs anti-vax. We are pitted against one another as if our differing ideologies are insurmountable. We become the "other", and the judgements rain down in online comments where we make bruising accusations about the other's intelligence and sanity.
This polarizing reminds me of my experience with gangs growing up on the Navajo reservation. As a teenager I was friends with people from different gangs, and I flitted back and forth among my various friends without worrying about who was wearing what color.
One day this disregard for differences seemingly led to the death of several of my friends at a party. A friend I had invited showed up, and it turned out he was from a rival gang, which I hadn't realized when I invited him. There was fighting and eventually gunfire. Two young men ended up dead, and two would spend many years of their lives in prison.
I felt a terrible sense of guilt for this. When people die we often find ways to take on their deaths. The things we could have done differently that might have stopped it, may have led to a different outcome. I retreated into myself, and it took me many years to recover some semblance of my open-minded, easy going nature that I felt had led to those deaths.
Since that time many more have died in gang related violence on the Navajo Nation. The saddest aspect of it all is that most of these gang members are from the same tribe. Some are cousins or share the same clan. They grow up angry and hurt because of the results of the horrific systematic genocide and racism that has been inflicted upon indigenous people for generations. But instead of taking their anger out on the system, they take it out on each other.
What an effective way to control people. Red vs blue. Hillary vs. Trump. Distract, distract, distract. Pit us against one another so that we are so engaged in fighting each other that we forget who we are really angry at.
I have to admit I have had a hard time understanding why anyone would support Trump. My mother is much better than I am at maintaining an objective point of view. My ire goes up when I see anyone bullying anyone else. I was picked on too.
I remember one day, when I was very little, a group of boys had gathered around a puppy in our schoolyard. They were shouting at it, and chasing it with sticks and rocks. I was a very shy, withdrawn little girl at this point, and struggled to speak above a whisper in class, but when I saw this puppy it reminded me of times that I had been picked on and I was angry. "Stop it! Leave him alone!" I yelled at them, and they were startled enough to stop.
Suddenly I discovered that I had allies. My standing up for the puppy inspired other kids to stand up for it too, and afterwards we gathered around him, speaking to him in soothing voices and petting him until it's tail wagged and he forgot the abuse he had just narrowly escaped. The mean boys left and for that moment I felt a sense of power that I had never had before.
Everything about the Trump campaign has brought back that same sense of indignant injustice I had of seeing a puppy getting kicked by bullies. "How can anyone vote for this mean man?" I kept asking myself after watching clips of his speeches and seeing him invoke violence and hatred and mean-spiritedness in the crowd. The day he made fun of the disability of a reporter tipped me over the brink of understanding. How could people in my Down syndrome community supoort this man? I could not understand it.
But recently my husband told me a story that helped me to wrap my brain around it. One of the fathers in his group was grappling with who to vote for. He is a conservative, and he knows that whoever wins the election will have a huge impact on the supreme court. He has a little girl with Down syndrome and he doesn't like the way that Trump talks about women or people with disabilities, but for him the alternative has such terrible ramifications that he can't decide what to do.
Now this I can understand. While Hillary Clinton's policies and idealogies mostly coincide with my own, and her history of defending disability rights gives me great hope for my son's future if she were to win today's election, I have struggled with my concern over some of her actions. Even as I type this thousands of water protectors are gathered at Standing Rock in North Dakota, trying to stop the building of a huge pipeline that will destroy their sacred lands and endanger their water supply. President Obama has put a temporary halt to the pipeline, but he has not stopped it. It is as if he is hoping that the protestors will go away and he can sneak out of the presidency without anyone noticing how little he has done to help preserve the environment. He rode in on the promise of hope and change and saving the earth, and he rides out with American oil and gas production at an all time high, and very little of those promises fulfilled.
The woman who is hoping to come riding in after him is also doing nothing to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Whatever lip service they might give to the environment and indigenous rights is just that, lip service, and it angers me to no end. I feel even more betrayed that they are from the party that readily admits that global warming is a real and present danger. How could they do this to us? Why are we being betrayed by the people who are supposed to represent us?
And this is where I find the common bond that I had been struggling to see. Republicans, Democrats, we are not so different. Mostly we want the same things, with some minor differences. We want our friends and families to be safe, for our freedoms to be protected and for our government to look out for our best interests and otherwise stay out of our business. And none of us is getting our needs met.
If we could stop pointing fingers at one another for a moment and come together, we could stop those mean boys from kicking that puppy. But it is much easier to point fingers at one another, to feel that we are superior in our ideologies. Just like those gangs that I hung out with in high school, we have been played so well that we are attacking each other instead of the system that has failed us.
When our own government blatantly violates it's own rules, like ignoring tribal treaties and using violent force against peaceful protestors, then it doesn't really matter which puppet leader we elect. As long as their strings are controlled by corporate interests, we will continue to see our environment and our rights eaten away.
There is this old saying, "Together we stand, united we fall." Today that is an especially important reminder. We have allowed our petty differences, our "othering" to blind us to the real problems that are plaguing our economy, our environment and our freedoms. Together we must find common ground, and we must stand together to stop this great evil. We cannot let mega-corporations bully us any longer. We must protect our water. We must protect our land. We must protect each other. I don't care if you are blue or red or purple, you are human, and you can change the world, together with me.
It starts with voting. Today, on November 8th. The democratic system might be terribly broken but at least we still have it. Do not let the bullies win. If your heart cannot let you vote for Trump or for Hillary, vote for someone else, someone you do believe in. They always tell us that third party candidates can never win, but that's only because we believe them. Vote for the people you believe in, and for the things that matter most to you. And then stop blaming the other side, and start a conversation. Ask "How can we work together to make the world better?"
I believe in you. And I believe in me too. Wherever there is an attempt at greater understanding there is tolerance. And where there is tolerance there is peace. And where there is peace there is greatness. Let us all be great.