A Family Affair
When you are little, there comes a time when you must ask your parents a question they find difficult to answer. I was in the third grade when I popped the question to my mother while riding in the car: "Mommy, what's a Democrat?" She simply replied, "Nice black people," an answer I will never forget. This was my first political discussion, and it already involved race issues and how I would define myself. My household became my first political party in the sense that my family and ancestry formed my political ideology.
My parents introduced me to politics at a very early age. I was born the week of the 1984 presidential election, and, by the next election, my parents had me working alongside them for Jesse Jackson's second attempt at the presidency. Apparently, I passed out flyers in the projects of Oakland and urged people roughly 10 times my age to "vote for Jesse Jackson."
My parents enjoyed sharing their interest in politics and illustrating it through stories. As I grew up in Oakland, the same city my parents grew up in, they would constantly tell me stories about how the city has changed. This would often lead to frank discussions about how society has changed. "You know that your grandfather fought in World War II, right?" my father would ask. "He landed on the beaches of Normandy to fight for this country, he got his legs shot up by machine guns, and when he came back home, he was turned away from the polls because he was black!" It made me feel I had a certain responsibility to my grandfather to vote when I became able. I felt like it would be an insult to him and show a lack of respect for the collective discrimination of blacks if by the time my 18th birthday rolled around, I wasn't registered to vote.
My mother would tell me, "As a black person, you have to work twice as hard to get anything."
My parents introduced me to the idea that politics is in our everyday lives. Their parents were forced into politics because of their situation. My grandfather, facing discrimination in America, had no choice but to pay attention to politics. After hearing Martin Luther King Jr. speak, he came home to my father and said, "I wish I had taken you." He realized that his son could have benefited from what he had heard because King had a message that was important to humanity, not a select age group. In my lifetime, my father has taken my sister and me to every political event he attended.
My parents never once acted like being engaged in politics is something you grow into, but that it is something that grows from necessity. My mother talked about campaigning for Shirley Chisholm, who was the first black person to run for president, and about being suspended from school for going to an Angela Davis rally. My father told me about protesting the Vietnam War and going to Black Panther Party meetings. These were political activities they were engaged in when they were young. They were involved not because of mere interest, but because they saw it as necessary, as their parents saw their own political involvement. They showed me that you go where you are needed.
My parents showed me a lot of things in the political sphere, yet I was given room to make my own decisions. When the war in Iraq broke out this past year, my father was one of the many Americans who actually supported the war for the reason that they disliked Saddam Hussein's treatment of his people. At this point, my parents had gotten me interested in politics, but they made it clear that how I reacted to what I saw was up to me. My father and I would constantly debate about the war, but when it was time for me to take a public stance on my feelings at a protest in San Francisco, he gave me money to take the train to the march, and even gloves, because it was cold outside. He knew I saw this as something I had to do. This is where he taught me that I needed to go.