Politics came into my life at a very young age. I remember riding in the car with my mother or grandmother and listening to talk show icons Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Phil Valentine, and Mark Levin. When I was barely a year old, the Tennessee General Assembly was in session to decide whether or not to implement a state income tax. A local talk show host, Phil Valentine, had listeners drive to downtown Nashville and go by Capitol Hill to honk their horn in protest of the proposed state income tax. My grandmother drove us down there, and when we passed by, she honked the horn and said to me, “hold your thumb up!”
I distinctly remember one car ride with my mom when I was around six or seven. She was driving me home from school and Phil Valentine was on the radio. We listened to him on the way home every single day, and at that age, I didn’t know or care what he was saying. I remember saying from the backseat, “Mom can we PLEASE listen to music?” to which she quickly replied, “maybe if you listen, you’ll learn something.” Even though I remember not being satisfied with that answer, those words stuck with me. Every time I heard Phil or Rush or Mark or Sean on the radio, I paid attention and tried to understand what they were saying.
As I got older, the topics that they discussed on their radio shows became more and more fascinating to me. I actually wanted to listen to talk radio, and enjoyed learning more about politics and current events. I would often talk to my grandmother about different topics and ask her a lot of questions because I genuinely wanted to understand what was happening in the world. My parents and grandmother obviously have their opinions and would tell me what they were, but they always allowed me to form my own opinions and not just blindly believe what they thought. That is something I greatly appreciate looking back on because they allowed me to grow and learn on my own rather than forcing me to believe everything that they do.
If you have not caught on by now, I was raised in a Christian, conservative household. I was raised in church, and as I said earlier, my family regularly listen to conservative talk radio. To say that I was in an ideological echo chamber is not true, however. My parents always told me that there are people who do not think the same things they do nor believe the same things they do, but I was to treat everyone with respect regardless. Even though I knew that there were people who were not raised the same way I was or believed the same things my parents believed, it was not until middle school that I was really exposed to people with different worldviews. I remember my peers and classmates beginning to talk about politics and current events more towards the end of middle school. I was never super vocal back then, not because I was scared to say what I thought, but because I was not fully sure of everything yet.
By the time I got to high school, I had pretty strong opinions on most political topics, and so did the majority of my classmates. I am a conservative and I was back then, but the overwhelming majority of my classmates were not. In fact, most of them were pretty far left. I have always been someone who says what I think and does not care what other people think about me. So despite pretty much every other student and teacher in my school disagreeing with me, I still was vocal about my views. I was constantly having conversations and debates with people who disagreed with me. I was talked about behind my back, and called every name in the book. Despite all of that, I was able to learn about different perspectives and ideas which helped me shape what I believed. In fact, I changed my mind on a few issues because of these conversations. Discussing the specifics of immigration issues with liberals, for example, helped shape my views because at that time, I had not given them much thought. Those conversations allowed me to form my own opinions on the issue using the thoughts of people from multiple perspectives rather than just one from people whom I usually agree with.
Shortly after I graduated high school, I was looking to get involved in a campaign or something similar so that I could gain some experience before college. Local elections for city council were coming up so I was hoping to find a campaign to volunteer or intern for. Out of the blue, someone from my graduating class put a message in our GroupMe asking if there was anyone interested in doing some campaign work. I immediately responded, and reached out to the campaign manager that was looking for interns for a city council race. When I met with the campaign manager, she told me that the races were nonpartisan so political parties were not really a factor. I accepted the position as an intern for her campaign even though I did not know which way she leaned on the ideological aisle.
The candidate I worked for was Gloria Hausser. It turned out that I actually disagreed with Gloria and her campaign managers on most issues. For instance, Gloria supports raising property taxes and building more government housing while I do not. She is also against making budget cuts while I support them. Despite these disagreements, I was still grateful for the opportunity because I knew I would learn a lot.
Here are 4 things I learned by working for a candidate I disagree with:
- Even if there are ideological differences, we have more in common than we may think. Since the race was local and non-partisan, there were a lot of issues in our city that we all agreed were problems such as crime rates, taxes, infrastructure and affordable housing. We all had different ideas about the best way to fix these issues, but most of the differences were not major.
- It is important to reach out to the people of different political ideologies. One thing that I really loved about Gloria was that she had a willingness to talk to anyone in her district, regardless of their political beliefs. I went door knocking and went to meetings with voters with her, and sometimes you could definitely tell which way a voter leaned politically. She never dismissed the concerns or questions of a voter who was on the right, and always took those concerns seriously. As I said before, a lot of the local issues are not partisan problems, so it was important for Gloria to reach out to everyone. The voters definitely appreciated it, and many of them who voted for her were people who had differing political views.
- Everything does not have to be partisan. With local races, the main political issues that are talked about are not what you see CNN or Fox reporting on every night. The issues people care about in cities and counties are things that more directly affect people like safety, homelessness, and transportation. While people may have different ideas about how to fix those things, we all agree there are problems that need to be addressed. This allows people of all kinds of political ideology to come together and find the best solutions to these problems.
- Just because you disagree with someone, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. Before I worked for Gloria, I did not know as much about some local issues. Affordable housing, for example, is a big issue that people talk about in Nashville. I knew some things about it and about some of the government affordable housing programs, but I still had a lot to learn. Gloria actually worked for a company that helps people find affordable housing so she had a lot of insight on the topic. At the time, I knew that affordable housing was becoming a bigger problem because of how fast our city was growing, but I did not think it was as big of a deal as people claimed it was. As a conservative, I generally do not like the government getting super involved in most issues because I do not think it does a good job fixing them, and that includes affordable housing. Gloria talked about why affordable housing is becoming such a problem, especially in the district that she was running for. While I personally did not agree that our city government should be more involved in where builders can build new houses, apartment buildings, and condominiums, I did agree with her that the way that the zoning that was put into place originally seemed to be causing a lot of the problems that our city is facing with affordable housing. If we had not engaged in that conversation, I would not have known about that. I learned a lot about that issue because of her willingness to talk to me about it even though I did not completely agree with her.
I learned about the inner workings of campaigns and a lot of practical knowledge that has served me well and will continue to serve me well in the future. My mind was also constantly sharpened because my personal viewpoints were in the minority opinion, but again, this allowed me to strengthen my own arguments and learn from the other side’s perspective. I am still so grateful that I had that opportunity, and highly recommend highschool students or recent highschool graduates to find a similar opportunity.