They came in the mail this week and they’re still lying on the kitchen table. Bumper stickers supporting a gubernatorial candidate my husband and I both believe in and support. To be honest, I’ve been hesitant to put one on my car. I’m afraid of my tires being flattened, my doors being scratched or having an obscene gesture directed towards me while sitting in traffic. Four years ago, I had a bumper sticker supporting that same individual and I wasn’t afraid to display it. Now, I am, and that makes me sad.
I can remember in elementary school my classmates and I wearing those little tin buttons supporting our parents’ favorite candidate. (Yes, I’m old enough to remember wearing one for Barry Goldwater.) My parents would argue politics with our staunchly Democratic neighbors over beer and steamed clams on Friday nights, but it was all in good fun. Everyone stayed friends and agreed to disagree. There was no anger, no ugliness.
My high school best friend and I were wannabe journalists and often talked about what we read in the newspapers that arrived on our families’ doorsteps. In those days, the morning paper supported Democrats and the evening paper skewed Republican. We learned a lot from each other’s perspectives and never dreamed of politics as something hurtful or frightening.
When I was teaching, student-run mock elections were held during Presidential election years. The social studies teachers organized conventions and campaigns where the candidates made speeches, the hallways were plastered with posters (which were seldom defaced or graffitied) and we all got into the spirit of teaching kids how democracy works. I suspect that is no longer done because too many parents would complain.
I know, I know, politics has been a dirty business since the days of George Washington. I’m sure there was a smoke-filled back room filled with drunken men yelling and screaming at each other when they drafted the Declaration of Independence. Many of our leaders, even those who have been revered, we now know were flawed and morally corrupt. But they still managed to get the job done without driving a spike of bitterness and hatred into the heart of our country.
I am not a confrontational person. I tend to play my political and religious cards close to the vest. I don’t want to offend anyone, and yet that stance puts me in the position of the one being offended, especially when I am constantly bombarded with messages that make me cringe, that make me drop my jaw in utter disbelief that another person can truly support vile and repulsive behavior in the name of political gain.
I listened recently to a sermon online entitled “Remember to Fight,” in which the pastor reminded us that sometimes the ubiquitous “hanging in there” until things get better is not always the answer. That passivity only goes so far. That danger lurks in too much politeness, in always staying out of the fray and letting fear win out. That sometimes you need to go right smack into the pissing contest with a skunk even if you get sprayed, otherwise the skunk keeps you cowering in your house.
I need to speak up in support of people who I believe have integrity and decency and speak out against those who do not, even if that means occasionally offending someone. I need to put that bumper sticker on my car.