Reaching Across the Isle

Bars are a great equalizer, for certain. I wanted to hit on a topic that by way of anecdote relays a point that has become important to me since becoming part of the whole Occupy phenomena. It’s made me think a bit of my whole political prejudices and how the powerful split Americans against each other over partisan politics.

It was a bit of a family scandal in my small rural town when I cast my first vote after turning 18 for Bill Clinton. I don’t think I told anyone in my family I had voted for a Democrat for months after the election. God knows what my father thought when I started getting mailings from the Democratic Socialists of America to his home address when I was a teenager. I have been pretty hard left for a while: activist left. Spending as much time as I have in a college liberal arts program probably didn’t moderate my political perspective much.

Being at Occupy has pushed me into conversation with the blue-collar left, the Ron Paul/Libertarian supporters, and even moderate Republicans. Surely, the impetus of Occupy came from the hard left, but its message has struck a cord far outside that sort of insular world that the media has assumed all occupiers must necessarily hail from.

So, tonight, I am at a bar. I had hoped to run into a couple friends, who had left moments previous. I was talking to the bartender (a friend) about my recent experience being arrested for painting an oil painting in a public park after the state’s curfew (as part of an Occupy Albany action). The guy near to me at the bar seemed a bit put off. He interjected on the conversation by talking about Fox News, and inquires as to what cable network I watch.

I learned at my parent’s kitchen table that politics is serious business. As a teen, it was a family policy to avoid much discussion of politics or religion at dinner: I had sort of ruined a lot of dinners that way.
Fortunately, when I did my best to explain to the guy what the whole occupy business was about, he listened. When he spoke about his perspective, and the tea party, I listened. We ended up having a pretty genial conversation ranging in topic from the Occupy movement to the Tea Party, and from social programs to the current administration.

After a while, the topic turned to public transportation. The person I was talking to commuted to work daily from north of Albany to a job outside of Schenectady. He was looking for a bus back in the direction of Troy, and was hoping for an hour or two more to enjoy his night out.

Because I have had to take a bus to Troy frequently to get to play rehearsals out there, I had the CDTA number for bus schedules in my dialed calls, I found the number and handed him my phone. He ended up waiting on the phone a long time. The information number was busy for some reason. At one point, he came outside while I was smoking, and while he was still on hold waiting for a bus schedule and expressed that it was surprising to him an “enemy” would be readily willing to help him out. All I could think to say was simply, that we were not enemies, we simply had different perspectives.

That’s the important thing to remember here. Think of who it is that benefits when American citizens are turned on each other by partisan politics. Whenever two regular people think of themselves as diametrically opposed -as enemies- who benefits but the people who are behind America’s real problems. In reality, all we were was two dudes at a bar bullshitting about politics. One of us was worried about a ride home, and I passed him a phone. He may watch Fox and consider Bill O’Rielly to be “moderate,” while I read leftist blogs and web-sites and consider Obama to be a “centrist,” but we’re both Americans.

That might be what we should remember first.

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