Today Chris and I attended a fundraiser for Massachusetts Senatorial candidate: Elizabeth Warren (www.elizabethwarren.com). We’ve heard her speak before, and were delighted to listen to her answer questions today, and introduce herself to more interested voters.
We wore Warren campaign t-shirts designed by our friend Meryl Baier, because we are already supporters of Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy, and wanted to make it quite obvious.
So it’s surprising that I would be shy about admitting, in a blog, to my personal leanings in politics. I should have the courage of my convictions, right? And yet, I try to approach subjects inclusively, and this entire topic feels as if I’m taking up an “us and them,” one-side-or-the-other sort of stance.
Yes, I’m shy about putting myself on the line, even though this photo is already posted on Facebook, and I’ll gladly put up a Warren sign on my front lawn.
It is precisely this reticence — being cautious about discussing my viewpoints and political postions in a more public forum — that Warren challenged in all of us, when she spoke today. We were all asked to put ourselves on the front line. Be visible. Be open. Be public in our beliefs and commitments.
Whether Warren is your preferred candidate or not, the challenge to stand up publicly for what you believe in … that’s a worthy homework assignment for us as active citizens.
In light of recent local elections, it makes me realize the responsibility each of us takes by putting up signs or wearing someone’s name emblazoned across our chests. A few months ago, friends and neighbors debated whose signs, if any, to put up in their yards as preferred candidates for Selectmen or School Committee members. Some chose not to put up any signs, to avoid all controversy.
After all, Ipswich had more good candidates than openings. Only some worthy individuals would win at the polls. So by agreeing to put up campaign material or to stand at the intersection with a candidate’s signage, we had to make a choice, long before we cast a ballot.
Along the way, we were asked about why we supported the candidates whose names populated our lawn. Indeed, it was easier to explain our support of some candidates than others. Sometimes, we clarified issues for others, and they felt more confident about voting based on what they learned during our exchanges. Other times, we walked away from the conversation, questioning ourselves.
With signs, stickers or t-shirts, we’re endorsing people and causes. To some extent, we become spokespeople for those whose names and symbols we display. So we should be willing to answer questions and stand up for those beliefs.
We’re saying that that person, event, business or organization reflects our values or represents our interests. We’re putting our own good name and our own personal judgment to work on behalf of someone that we presumably believe in. Others take our recommendations seriously. An endorsement might influence someone else’s decision, or at least prompt others to ask more questions before deciding.
Of course, in a culture where we wear advertising and brand labels as part of our daily attire, it’s easy enough to put on a name and not think about what it means.
Yet most of us — consciously — wear many personal statements that also reflect beliefs, values or affinity. Wedding band as a symbol of marriage and commitment to a spouse of partner. Friendship bracelet or claddagh ring. Perhaps a symbol of faith, such as a cross. Maybe a pin that shows membership or affiliation with a service organization such as Masons or Rotary. Or the crest of an alma mater or other institution. An imprint in ink and color, like a tattoo, as a permanent statement. Maybe a cautionary band or symbol that alerts others to a medical condition in case of an emergency. Perhaps a badge or insignia to show title, rank or role in office, by those who serve in public safety or military roles.
It’s also a theme in popular literature, movies and songs. For instance, consider The Hunger Games and a young woman — Catniss — who becomes a reluctant hero and a defiant symbol of justice and liberation. She wears a bird pin, a mockingjay, which becomes visible during publicly televised life-and-death trials. Her survivor’s spirit, and the mockingjay pin, embody the hopes of a scared little sister, an isolated and depressed community, and eventually an entire starving and subjugated nation.
That’s fiction. But we can take the lesson, and apply it to our own daily lives.
In my case, you will often see me wearing an origami paper crane as a reminder of Jessie. And a favorite pair of earrings that Sarah gave me for Mothers Day. My wedding ring. Sometimes a gold ribbon as awareness for childhood cancer. A Rotary badge and pin. A Bright Happy Power logo. And most recently, feathers in my hair, which was been a personal sign of my decision to take the GRE, apply to graduate school and launch a journey toward a new vocation.
If you inquire about any of these symbols, I’ll gladly tell you what each one means to me.
So today, I added an Elizabeth Warren t-shirt to the mix, because I think she’ll represent us well as a US Senator from Massachusetts. Of course, I’m open to discussion with people with opposing viewpoints, or those who may be undecided. I have plenty to learn by engaging in discussion and debate. If you want to ask me what I know about Warren and what she stands for, and what I think she can do for my family, my community and my state in the national forum … well, as of today, I have accepted that responsibility, haven’t I?
As humans, our beliefs are varied and complicated. We fulfill many roles and bear many identities in a single day: colleague, professional, parent, sibling, child, coach, teacher, friend, counselor, advisor, advocate … Our ‘belonging’ to different circles and affiliation with many communities can overlap or diverge. We are colorful, multi-layered and complex beings. We don’t usually stand for only one issue, or believe all-or-nothing about any cause or candidate.
Yet sometimes, we are called to take a stand. To be brave. To participate in public life. To share what we believe, because it can make a difference to add our voices.
To me, this feels like one of those times.
I could have let the picture on Facebook do all the work. But I want to have more courage than that. Willingness to speak up when I believe in something … that’s also one of my aspirations for growth as a person, as I continue on this journey.