I was 18 years old when I registered to vote at the town hall in my hometown of Fairfield in 1997. I didn’t have my own car at the time, so I had my mother drive me to the Registrar of Voters office after school on my 18th birthday so I could officially be on the voter rolls. I walked into the historic, white-washed Old Town Hall building situated in the center of town, surrounded by old homes and mansions, and filled out the form, with my mom at my side, who I had take a picture of me. It was a key milestone to me – probably even more important for me than getting my driver’s license.
At a young age, I had become obsessed with politics, I loved reading about U.S. presidents and other leaders. I preferred watching the news rather than some hit show or movie (yes, I was a strange child). I even had my own dreams of doing something great one day and making thought-provoking speeches to help our country and others. In middle school, my friend Adam and I campaigned for a First Selectman candidate in our community and we were probably the only campaign volunteers to be driven to the headquarters by our parents.
By the early 1990s, I had become enthralled with a young governor named Bill Clinton who was running for President of the United States. In July of 1992, I snuck into my sister’s room and turned on her 13 -inch color television to watch Clinton accept the nomination for the presidency of the United States. His words were remarkable to me. For the first time in my life, I felt connected to a politician. His words sang to me like a sweet song and most importantly, it felt like he cared. “Our priorities must be clear: we will put our people first. But priorities without a clear plan of action are empty words. To turn our rhetoric into reality we have to change the way government does business–fundamentally.”
I admired Clinton’s idealism and his hope for the American people, and as a young, impressionable teen, I felt that I had witnessed a leader who was invested in my generation.
As I entered college, I became more involved in local politics and I became a volunteer with the Republican Party. To me, at its core, the Republican Party is a party of the big tent, and as I met more young Republicans, I saw a group of people who came from a variety of backgrounds. While there’s a narrative that Republicans tend to be conservative, gun-toting individuals who are closed minded, for me, it was more of a melting pot.
It was a place where I could be fiscally conservative, work for the betterment of the environment, fight for good government, limited taxes and spending, as well as be pro-choice. I also viewed the Republican Party as an entity that strongly engendered the American dream and shepherded those who wanted a better future for themselves, for their families and children.
Following college, I ran for local office and held a seat on Fairfield’s Representative Town Meeting, which is equivalent to a town council. There I saw firsthand how the government works, how policy is made and how people of different backgrounds can work together. It wasn’t always a perfect process, but during my first term, it seemed like the Democrats and Republican worked in concert for the greater good of the community, and together, we were stewards of our town and the future. In my subsequent term, I saw firsthand how the arrogance of power can spur leaders to do things that are wrong. And I, along with others, became part of a bi-partisan vocal group to demand action on an injustice relating to the environmental oversight of a railroad station.
As much as I liked the banner of unity, I was loyal to my party and worked hard over the years to be that focused, engaged and effective young Republican that my party of choice would be proud of. But in time and with age comes reflectiveness and an evolution of one’s worldview. I now wish I had done more to encourage cohesiveness with those outside the party because I’ve gleaned how fundamental it is. At the age of 39, I’ve become frustrated with my party with its unabashed blind eye to the president’s lies and misdeeds and that silence is deafening. And it has to end.
I believe that we have an obligation to reject the ugliness and bitter divisiveness that Mr. Trump creates and plants with each passing day whether via social media or at campaign-style rallies. Do we become less Republican or less loyal for this? No, I don’t think we do. We shouldn’t be so strident in our beliefs where we don’t see the unjust actions of this man. I think about my younger self who was so enthralled with Bill Clinton, the leader who held so much promise to me and remember that we’re influencing the next generation when we do not speak.
In my ideal world, I wish there was less strife, more inclusion; more debate than unintelligible yelling; less tweeting and more listening; less bias and more equality.
I also know that if the Republican party is going to grow, if it’s going be a party that attracts young people and individuals from multiple backgrounds it has to evolve; it needs a shift in its thinking and policies. We have to become more compassionate, more gentle and while we may be grounded by our principles and experiences, we can’t be ruled by mere ideologies and party talking points. We need to be motivated by justice, righteousness, and even kindness. Our Republican leaders must use their powers entrusted to them to reject divisiveness even when it may not be politically expedient.
Certainly our own founders could be vitriolic and toxic – in the media barrages of the 18th and early 19th centuries one can find missives and opinion pieces whose viciousness would make the worst political pundits seem like child’s play.
Yet, somehow, in the middle of it all, the notion of a strong democracy seemed to persist. A powerful example of this came when the election of 1824 – known as the election of ugly politics – was thrown into the House of Representatives because none of the three candidates had won a majority of the Electoral vote. Even then, candidates had proxies and campaign assassinates, known as “friends,” who planted articles in the newspapers to endorse their own candidates and undermine their rivals. The followers of Andrew Jackson, the winner of the popular vote, declared, “If trickery and corruption make the pretensions of Adams prevail, well then, our bayonets will do justice!” And yet, when John Quincy Adams did prevail in the House, Jackson arrived at the Adams’ victory party on election night and took his loss with grace – and extended his hand. The respect of the unity of the nation was far more important than personal disputes or self-aggrandizement.
As Republicans, Democrats or Independents (or wherever you sit), we must stand together, get rid of the cruel words, reject unjust terminations, and, with hope and promise, we must be Americans together.
Alexis Harrison is a Connecticut native who now resides in Seattle, Washington. She was elected to Fairfield’s Representative Town Meeting for four terms.