Tonight I’m doing a #WalkAway AMA on Reddit to talk about my departure from being a “default Democrat”. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, because to be honest I’ve also had a #WalkAway moment with the Republican party. It’s just funny how these things come full circle.
Anyone who reads my columns regularly knows that I’m a very conservative woman with staunch conservative/libertarian ideals. I think those things were always lurking in the background of my life, even when I didn’t recognize them. I once heard Rush Limbaugh say that the loudest progressives typically live the most “conservative” lives. I had all kinds of ideas about increasing welfare, taxing the rich to help the poor, and reducing crime in impoverished communities through government intervention and – shockingly – more welfare.
But that’s not how I lived my life. I believed in hard work and despite my family taking welfare off and on throughout my youth I never once considered it for myself. I didn’t want it. I wanted more. So I worked for more. After growing up being subjected to the harsh and blatant racism of my eastern Canadian home, I immigrated to the United States as soon as I graduated high school. I put myself through college and when I graduated I moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Chicago with 6 other people, got a job at a coffee shop and worked my ass off to pay the bills.
And I was happy to do it. Ironically, the whole time I was enjoying the satisfaction, freedom and advancement that comes with overcoming your obstacles and working hard to make your own opportunities, I was patronizingly denying other people that same feeling. I had the idea that my path was a “fluke” but most other black people could just never get out of their circumstances because of racism, poverty, slavery, Republicans, education bias…you name it, I thought it.
How condescending of me!
I always had the idea that all of our problems would be solved with just more money and fewer white people. As a born and bred Canadian I was a committed socialist and sure, our medical system sucked but Americans could get it right if only they would try…if only they would commit their vast riches. America could get Socialism right…if only the rich folks would stop hoarding their wealth.
I was resentful of those with wealth and I’m ashamed to admit now – those with stable families and comfortable lives. I had the notion that these things were only possible because they were denied to someone else, and that “someone else” was typically a minority like me. This was a type of envy, and even though I was (and still am) a committed Christian, I didn’t recognize it as such. I saw it as my sense of justice at work.
A lot changed for me after I was married. I joined my husband in his hometown of Gary, IN and for the first time in my life I was directly tied to the very population I vocally advocated so passionately for. Our city was poor, largely black and riddled with failing schools and crime. If there ever was a place to put my words into action it was there, and it was my home now so I was obligated to roll up my sleeves and help my community.
My father-in-law was a popular local pastor, and also the first black man I’d ever met who called himself a Republican and a conservative. We were fast friends, and often talked politics. He would gently but intelligently challenge a lot of my notions and beliefs. I thought I knew a lot because I read a lot of headlines. He challenged me to read the actual stories. I thought I new a lot because I watched Bill Maher. He challenged me to watch the things going on around me. I thought I knew a lot because…well, I knew a lot! He challenged me to value results over talk. I wasn’t a convert, but I began to think that maybe I didn’t have the full picture when it came to my ideas about Republicans and conservatives. Could it be that I was depending too much on salacious headlines and raging talking heads for my opinions about conservatism?
Eventually he invited me to run a non-profit after-school program in town that would provide mentoring, tutoring and free internet access to local students. Together we set it up and I dove head first into serving our community. I met so many good people…folks who worked hard and kept their heads down and just wanted more opportunities for their kids. Our city was a rough place to live, but I soon discovered it was also filled with love, community and many people with generous spirits. I came to love Gary, even though it didn’t always love me back.
As I worked with our kids I realized a great majority of them were being raised by their grandparents. I became an advocate for those grandparents in our failing public school system. I would offer to attend teacher meetings with them, go over homework with them and help them navigate any issues at school, as often times school officials would tend to be very dismissive of older grandparents with too many questions. I loved it and this is where my advocacy for school choice began – although that’s another story for another day.
At the same time I was taking my FIL’s advice and observing things around me. I was living and working in a place where I had the opportunity to see first-hand how all the policies I’d supported my whole life actually worked in real time.
And I began to notice…they didn’t.
Other things started to bother me. My husband and I had both worked hard to break into the middle class and now that we were beginning to live more comfortably, I noticed that some people were becoming very rude about it and accused us of being “privileged” and not able to relate to our community because we were too “uppity”. It made me wonder how many middle class/wealthy people that I habitually resented actually had the same story as me and my husband.
I thought about how every day I worked so hard to encourage our kids in the program to set goals. We were constantly reiterating that they could have a great life with a good job and a nice home if they were willing to put their minds to it. What I wasn’t telling them was that as soon as they did overcome their circumstances and become successful, people like me would call them snobs and sell-outs and privileged, greedy jerks. Did I want my kids to have good things, or did I want them to stay poor for the “street cred”?
I also realized that I couldn’t keep telling these kids out of one side of my mouth that they could be anything and do anything with some hard work and good support around them and then out of the other side of my mouth tell them that they’d never have good things because “The Man” would always be there to knock them down. I knew it was wrong to discourage them like that. The greatest advancements in our society have come from men and women who didn’t know they couldn’t do something. They just did it without regard for their limitations.
As a Canadian I had limited knowledge of American history, and through my tutoring I began reading history books, biographies of the Founding Fathers and influential black Americans like Frederick Douglass, and the Constitution. I read about the American Revolution, the Civil War and was deeply moved by just how many “coincidences” and “divine interventions” had come together to create the society we have today. A society, by the way, that I had much criticism for while still blindly enjoying it’s privileges.
I couldn’t bring myself to label myself a “Republican”…I still struggled with all those nasty characterizations I saw in the movies and on t.v. I didn’t vote for George W.Bush the first time, but in his second term I entered the voting booth and realized, “I’m a conservative. I’m definitely a conservative”. I pulled that lever for GWB and never looked back.
Of course, there’s more to the story and you can ask me any questions you have at tonight’s Reddit r/walkaway AMA at 9pmET. I’ll update this story with the link after the event, but you can just log in to Reddit at that time and search #WalkAway or hit me up on Twitter for details @RealKiraDavis.
I have lots of beef with the Republican party. As a result, I cannot call myself one. But I have no problem saying I am a conservative with libertarian leanings. I care deeply about the people around me, and I strongly believe that the principles of independence, low taxes, free markets and limited government are the best and fastest way to prosperity for Black America. It is why I advocate for all those things, even when it gets me labeled as an “Uncle Tom” or sell out.
When I decided to #WalkAway from the Democrat party and liberalism for good, I didn’t think of it as walking toward the Republican party. I still don’t. I did the GOP thing for a minute, but I realized that politics are nasty and most politicians only have the goal of being reelected. I don’t have loyalty to party…my loyalty is to good sense, good people, and a good, good God.
The rest is just what’s happening in our tiny momentary drop in the bucket of eternity.