Looking Through the Bubble

I’ve lived in a bubble of liberal ideology my whole life, and it has, in many ways, been a blessing. I will continue to cherish and hold tight to the values of equality and justice that I was raised on. But, I try to see beyond my bubble. I moved to place far away, where there are farms instead of office buildings, and cows instead of busses. Even in rural Ohio, the bubble remains. I attend a fairly liberal school, so it can be easy to assume that most people think the way I do. People are often talking about the need to “pop” the bubble—to leave what they know completely behind and step outside their comfort zone. Yet, bubbles are translucent. You don’t need to pop them to see past them. This past weekend, I tried to see through my own bubble. It was a beautiful Saturday morning as I walked down a street with no sidewalks on the outskirts of Mt. Vernon, Ohio. I could feel my cheeks getting flushed as the sun beat down on my heavy flannel. I was conscious of my plain Ohio State T-Shirt, hoping I looked like I belonged, not like the West Coast kid I used to be.

As I approached the first house, a woman was stepping out to get the mail. My partner asked her if she had a second to talk about what politicians were doing to health care, and she said sure. She had health care because of Obamacare, but she didn’t like her coverage. There were no hospitals or doctors nearby that could give her care, and I told her that I have the same problem with my health insurance. At the next house, a thin, middle-aged man in a baseball cap came to the door. “Okay,” I thought to myself, “this will go quickly.” I expected him to turn us away as soon as we asked about healthcare, but the conversation lasted for about twenty minutes. He didn’t have healthcare, but he didn’t like that he was penalized by the government for making that choice. He didn’t want to pay for other people’s healthcare and felt that the government was too big. He was angry with politicians for failing to follow through with their promises.

I spent most of the time listening, focusing on the problems he articulated and what he thought should be done. I was struck by his belief that the government is too big because it doesn’t do anything to help his community. No one I talked to during my canvass could tell me who their representative was, largely because he’s never here. As far as I know, he has never held a public town hall in my community. He isn’t standing on people’s doorsteps listening to them. No wonder people think big government is useless. One of the most important components of a representative democracy is the commitment of the political elite to public service.  Genuine, knock on your door, hold a town hall, public servants who believe it is their duty to serve all their constituents, not just the ones who elected them. Someone who puts the good of the country above all else, especially their own best interest. Someone who can see through their own bubble and attempt to understand the lives of their neighbors. When you’re sitting in a political science class, you can engage in grandiose debates about the proper role of political parties, the theory behind voter disengagement and disassociation.

But, when you’re standing on someone’s doorstep, asking them what they care about and why, none of that really matters anymore. Because none of that theoretical noise gets their job back. Or fixes the pothole in front of their house. Or helps their kid suffering from a heroin addiction. What matters on that doorstep is making someone feel heard. Really listening, trying to understand the battles they face, regardless of whether or not they vote for you. Americans from all walks of life feel ignored. They feel betrayed. They’re sick and tired of empty promises and are hoping for someone who can actually make a difference. But we’ve forgotten that we have the power to make a difference in our own communities. We don’t need to wait for a politician to organize us. We can organize ourselves. We don’t need to wait for someone in DC to fulfill their promises. We can roll up our sleeves and get to work right now. We can talk to our neighbors, try to understand the mountains they have to climb and offer a leg up on the way. We can run for city council, make sure that enough money is allocated in the city budget to repair the damaged road ways and update the drainage systems to be able to cope with increased rainfall.

We don’t have to wait for someone else to listen. We ourselves can listen and learn and work to make our communities stronger and the lives of those around us better. That is our responsibility as neighbors and as Americans: to fight for each other when no one will fight for us.

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