Why did I become a Democrat? It’s an interesting story, so I hope you will read through. Recently, a member of my own party has brought up that I used to be a Republican and even fed it to a local blogger who subsequently posted the details. I’ve always been open about my political past. In fact, I think my story is interesting, and perhaps a helpful lesson on several fronts.
Yes, I plead guilty to having been a conservative, but only by reason of insanity. Being a conservative was the result of cultural and environmental factors, and I suspect that most conservatives are the same. I grew up Mormon, and over 70% of them are Republicans. Many of my friends and family were conservative.
I was never involved with the Republican Party, other than simply being an attendee of the 2008 presidential caucus. I did, however, begin my blogging career at a conservative blog. Naturally, I made some typical conservative minded comments there that I would be very critical of today.
So what happened to me since then? It’s called an education. I had classes in anthropology, world politics, environmental science, astronomy, political philosophy, comparative politics, and many others. I learned about critical thinking in philosophy 102. I learned what makes an argument a good argument, and what doesn’t. I soon discovered that critical thinking and conservative politics don’t mix well.
After discussing an incident between Palestinians and Israelis with a professor, I told him that I wasn’t closed minded about the situation (of course I always leaned Israel) and was attempting to use critical thinking, and an unbiased view, and simply wanted to “know the truth.” My professor suggested that “knowing the truth” may not be what it’s all about. He explained that “In politics, things are less often about the truth, and more often about perspectives. Understand perspectives, and you’ll understand politics a lot better.” Boy, that was really powerful for me.
I started applying that philosophy to my studies, trying to understand all the perspectives. I soon found that many of my preconceptions were pig headed.
Even science classes started changing my perspective. In astronomy, I saw evidence of climate change as a man made phenomenon that just simply cannot be dismissed with any real honesty. That’s a crucial word. I changed my political philosophy because I was honest with myself. I was ignorant in many ways, but as I learned more and more, I realized I had been wrong about so many things.
My education experience had been so enlightening and empowering to me, that in 2009/2010 I became fed up with Republican governor Jim Gibbons and his cuts to education in Nevada. I switched party affiliations, and began organizing other students to join me in fighting these cuts. I was going to be damned if they take away what had given me so much! I testified at legislative hearings in Las Vegas and Carson City in 2010. By 2011, I was pushing for a huge demonstration in Carson City with students from all across the state. I worked directly with students from UNLV, Nevada State College and CSN to make it happen. You may recall seeing SOS shirts in black and yellow. That was a shirt I designed myself.
My buddy Sebring Frehner and I were big voices in the push to make a big splash up there in Carson City. We worked hand in hand with JT Creedon, Kyle George, Aimee Riley, Michael Flores, and so many others. When it happened, we brought 15 buses just from southern Nevada full of students and signs. Guy Rocha estimated that it was the largest protest in Carson City history, and the biggest crowd since Teddy Roosevelt visited around the turn of the century. I am very proud of what we did. We told Republicans that they were crazy to be cutting higher ed and k-12.
While I am not proud of having been a conservative, I am proud that I was able to change and begin fighting for good progressive causes. That’s one of the main reasons I volunteer on my county Democratic Party committee executive board. I want to help Democrats win so that we can have representatives who care about education, among other things.
I thought this was a good opportunity to have a discussion about why people are conservative. Just remember that your conservative friends have the potential to be progressive warriors given the right information. My change did not happen overnight. I was being called a RINO by my conservative friends long before I switched parties, and of course people on the left thought I was a big conservative. People are slow to change. Have patience and don’t give up hope. Keep trying to gently persuade. Teach critical thinking. Again, this is why education is so important. It was professors and fellow students having an honest and classy conversation with me that helped. Calling me names wasn’t going to change my mind. Remember, conservatives just have a perspective, it’s not that they are bad people. Try to remember that when you discuss politics with them. Try to appeal to their perspectives.
In the final analysis, we should recognize that no political party is perfect. Sometimes, members of your own party may engage in personal attacks, and you might not even understand why. We must look past the human conflicts that will naturally arise among us. I try to focus on why I’m doing this… trying to make a positive change in the world. As the about section of this website states, I am an advocate for the rights of working people, women, children, immigrants, LGBT citizens and indigenous people. I blog in support of freedom of personal choices, for peace, for the health of our planet, and against racism.
Justin is the publisher The Nevada View, which has earned the recognition in the Washington Post’s “Best State-Based Political Blogs,” as well as being awarded the “Most Valuable Blogger Award” by the local CBS affiliate in 2011. Justin is also an associate at the Ramirez Group in Las Vegas. Follow him on Twitter @McAffee