I suspect that it started in the early 90’s when I worked at a shelter called The Recuperation Center. It was a transitional shelter where people from various walks of life could stay after a hospital discharge if they were homeless or their housing wasn’t adequate, until they were settled into housing that fit their needs. Some of the people I met there left enduring impressions.
There was K, the street bum who I later saw as a paramedic student, drunk and passed out, covered in his own urine. When I met him at the center, he was sober. A quiet man who mostly kept to himself, he only spoke when spoken to…except that one time. There was another resident there who was a physician assistant student. She was struggling through her Organic Chemistry homework (which is a weeder course for pre-PA and pre-med students because it’s the likely most difficult undergrad course). K sat down beside her and tutored her. He patiently worked with this aspiring medical provider, guiding her through information that was clearly as familiar to him as his ABC’s.
I met M there too. He was an outgoing, engaging young man. He was often up and restless during the graveyard shifts that I worked. He might have just needed a good listener, and I always have fit that description. He told me he was dying. He had something called MAC, which I finally realized was a complication of AIDS. (Back before Google it wasn’t easy to find out these things). He didn’t overshare, but he had lived a promiscuous life as a gay man. He was one of those people I had read about in the book I got from Summit Ministries about the “Homosexual Revolution”. The book depicted people like M as having an destructive agenda, but M showed no apparent threat. I considered him a friend. I felt dirty about it, how could I like this person I had been specifically warned about? His stay there was brief, and once he was gone I decided not to trouble my mind about such things. At the time I didn’t know what cognitive dissonance was, even so, I managed to avoid it like the plague.
In my work as a paramedic, I saw families ravaged by poverty. I left pieces of my heart in many homes over those years. But I knew that if they just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps that they could do better. It was mistakes that got people into those circumstances and correcting the mistakes would fix the circumstances. I was sure of it.
Then it was my family. We brought our niece home when her mother spiraled out of control, addicted to prescription and street drugs. During the 18 months that followed I became an impromptu social worker. Mike and I worked alongside the professional social work team with the foster care agency overseeing our “case”. We found an inpatient rehabilitation center that accepted my sister-in-law, and were elated when she graduated from the program a few months later. Then she found an apartment and started a new life. Just 6 months later she died of a heroin overdose. She pulled herself up from her bootstraps with a whole team of professional and family support, and it wasn’t enough.
Shortly after that I went to work in the child welfare department of the Christian agency that had overseen our foster care license for our niece (for whom we took guardianship, and parented into adulthood). It was in October of 2008 and you could have knocked me out with a feather when my Christian coworkers talked about voting for President Obama. In my mind Christian=Republican. There was no exception. Yet these women were on fire! It soon became apparent that they weren’t the only progressive, Christian social workers around. I was surrounded by smart, savvy, Christ-loving people whose hearts were left in pieces in the homes where they served. But these people had graduate level educations in the social sciences, which demonstrated how progressive policies were far more empowering to people in dire straits than pulling on bootstraps.
I listened and learned, retaining a hint of skepticism about some of their more liberal views.
I still voted Republican in 2012.
But I was more moderate. A bleeding heart Republican, if you will.
I kept listening, hearing stories, reading recommended books. Then I started attending a progressive Christian Reformed Church (yes there is such a thing). I embraced the progressive messages with abandon. I was beginning to reconcile my Christian faith with more liberal practices, and was set free from a worldview which insisted that I should love my gay friends but still hate their sin, and that maybe they should somehow shed their gay identity to be welcomed into the pew with me. The paradigm shift wasn’t entirely comfortable, but it was welcome.
But there’s even more. When you have children with disabilities, with cancer and complex medical needs you build a community, and my community struggles.
It’s only been a few decades that children with complex needs have survived infancy, and kept in homes instead of institutions, and their families often lack much needed support to meet the needs of children who have numerous doctor appointments, therapies, and daily need to balance.
People cannot believe that we don’t get respite care (other than Grammy), even with Ben’s complex developmental and medical needs. People cannot believe my boys don’t have Medicaid or SSI. They seem to assume it all comes with the package.
It was with the 2016 election that the final straw came down hard and fast.
Last spring I was faced with 2 presidential candidates who I had disliked and I simply couldn’t vote for either. That’s when I started digging to figure out what would be the lesser of the evils, so to speak. I dug in hard. I fact checked reams of documents about Benghazi and email servers to satisfy myself about all of my misgivings about that, and then dug into policy positions on both candidates.
That’s when I found Hillary Clinton’s disability plan.
After perusing it I kept digging to find out how she knew about families like mine and why she cared. She had heard the voices of families like mine. She had paid attention to them, and not only acknowledged their plight, but made comprehensive plans to improve the daily lives of families like my own.
When you’re drowning, you need a lifeguard. In Hillary Clinton, I found one. I struggled with her abortion position, only to find that she had carefully researched that position as well, and had many policy positions that would reduce the factors that lead into abortion, and that those positions had been demonstrated to decrease abortion numbers significantly in places where they were put into action. My ideal would be no abortions ever, but I do believe that better birth control options and supporting women in crisis pregnancies is the best possible way to move in that direction.
I’m afraid that the current administration has only deepened my interest in progressive politics with their consistent and persistent policies eroding what little support complex families do have.
It’s not a radical story. As pendulums swing, I realize that mine might swing further left, or back toward center or back to the right, and much of that will play out based upon how our 2-party system continues to evolve.
Even a year ago if you had told me that Hillary Clinton would be my candidate I would have laughed myself silly. Life is funny like that, isn’t it?