Conversation with the Alt-Right
So I'm knocking on doors in a street not too far from the hill I live on trying to spread the word of the left to my red, red neighbors. As I was about to knock on a door, Mike tells me to hold up. He's with a painter who was working on the house across the street and the two of them are taking a smoke break. I didn't realize this at the time, but I was about to knock on Mike's door. It didn't seem like it to me at the time because he was covering for his wife, who works from home. Actually, he was covering for me.
"Man, you don't want to bother her. She'll get pissed if you ring that bell while she's working." I introduced myself and explained what I was doing. He looked me in the face and told me he's already decided that he is going to vote red. Now, listen. I signed up to campaign as a Democrat, but I am actually registered Republican. Truth is, I don't believe in party loyalty. As a matter of fact, my training as a journalist has made me very open to listening to people of all opinions. That said, I certainly have my own set of beliefs and values, but in an effort to be fair, I do my best to listen to someone with something to say. And we all know, the South got sum' to say.
Mike and his friend shook my hand and we started talking. Like a pack of dogs sniffing each other's shit, once we got passed the fact that we were of different breeds and creeds we were able to look each other in the eyes and talk about what the state of Tennessee really wants and needs. We didn't dive into it too much. My canvassing partner needed a ride, so I drove her to where she needed to go. I had no idea, but she is actually the mayor's daughter. Wild. Anyway.
I made my way back to that street because I really wanted to at least try knocking on that door. I took two steps forward and the door swung out like it was the wild wild South. Mike put a defensive hand up. "Look man, she really don't want to talk to anyone right now." I got nervous. Maybe I fucked up the peace. I explained that I didn't realize it was his house and I just wanted to double back just so I know she don't want to talk. He was cool and explained that he was trying to warn me to not get an earful from her. He said that he was more than willing to talk, though. I couldn't resist.
Most people slam the door in your face when you go out canvassing. As a matter of fact, I was quite disappointed with the way the office I was volunteering for was going about their business. They say don't waste your time with the rednecks. First of all, them folks at the office ain't even from the South, so don't insult my people. Second of all, how can we expect to make change if we aren't willing to at least look at humans with an eye of dignity? I took the challenge. Mike and I started talking. I learned that he is a veteran trying to get a brain scan and his knee checked out, but the VA's office is making it hard. He lives his daily life in chronic pain. He identifies with the Alt-Right, but when I asked him about the Affordable Care Act he took a sharp inhale and said, "Shawn, man, this is where I'm torn. I need it, but I really feel like I can't support it." We talked about it and about the practicality of the finances and the pettiness of the government in being serious about healthcare reform. As we talked, I realized Mike really felt like neither party was listening to his needs as a veteran despite the common talking point that, "we love our troops, we support our troops." He told me that during his time in the Army, he had to go through chemical training and endurance building where he had to go through clouds of gasses without a mask. He wants a brain scan to make sure everything is in order up top. Okay so this guy is opening his heart to a stranger Asian who walked on his lawn and identified as a media person who leans left. The liberal media? I should be everything this dude despises. I had to find out, is he racist? The short answer is yes, but I also think that everyone in America is racist in some capacity. Feel free to fight me on that debate. So I straight up asked him if anyone has ever called him a racist. "Oh yeah. My own daughter calls me a Nazi." I thought, dang that's harsh isn't it? This dude fought for our country. But he wasn't ashamed of it or anything. In fact, he said that if it was 1943, he would have been a Nazi. I was confused. I thought an ultra conservative, gun slingin' American would have nothing to do with the National Socialists of WW2 Germans. I had to dig. I asked who he thought was ruining our country. (He had mentioned it a few times). He stopped to think. I asked, "is it immigrants? People like me? Asians?" No. "Black people?" No. "Hispanics?" No, not even. "What about Muslims?" Honestly, no. "Well then who?"
Yeah, Mike is pretty anti-semitic. Quite so, indeed. I think that is the root of his attachment to the Alt-Right and the Nazi party. It's an economic thing for him. He feels as if the Jewish population is in control of all parts of the media and the military and the banks. He feels suppressed and like a pawn puppeted around. He told me that he started out as a pro-Israel soldier but as a private citizen is now sympathetic towards Palestine and really just wants the US out of the area altogether. He told me that he was banned from Facebook and Twitter for his vocalization of his opinions and it makes him feel even further silenced. At the same time he feels misunderstood. He feels like his identity loops him into this category of hating everyone and everything, when really he just wants his right to free speech and a brain scan.
Look, I can't back up everything the guy said as anything other than his word and opinion. We were very honest about our disagreements. I don't think I came away with a vote, but I wasn't really looking for one anyway. At the very least, I was able to give him a human side to the "liberal media" as he was able to give me a more human side of the Alt-Right. We kept talking about how important the kinds of discussions we were having were to bridging the political divide in America. It's the lack of fluid communication that has turned us against each other, against our own neighbors. I am positive I will speak with a someone with different opinions, a pro-Israel individual perhaps. I look forward to that day. Some of my friends might hate on me for giving my ear to Mike, but I truly do believe that not even giving him a chance, not listening, hurts everyone.
Mike invited me into his home. He let me pet his dog and his cat. He offered me water and even milk? That was a little odd to be honest. But he was respectful and welcoming. When I went back to the office, the field officer (from out of state) asked how'd it go? I told him and he snapped that I should never do that again. I thought hold up. No hi? No thanks for volunteering? I still believe in what I think is right, but I won't lie. That put me off a bit. I'll continue to work with Democrats, but I don't want to ignore the Republicans. I am looking for that middle ground that will make me truly independent of the parties. Hopefully I can be one plank on that bridge.