It was a typical warm and breezy Sunday morning in Los Angeles. Three weeks after the 2008 elections. Obama won LA county with almost 70%; Proposition 8 passed in LA county as well, defining marriage in the California constitution as “between a man and a woman.”
To many, those results seemed incongruent. Regardless, the gay community in LA was angry and looking for a scapegoat. Who did they blame? Not Obama, for his tepid, inconsistent support. Not the black churches that had mobilized against Prop 8 in South Central LA. One pastor from South Central appeared on TV explaining that any protestors knew better than to come into his neighborhood. No, they targeted the Mormons.
Source: The Great Seal
Mormons had been active in support of Prop 8. But we were far from lockstep. Prominent families in the Mormon Church I attended in Westwood opposed it. When a letter was read earlier in the summer stating the church’s official position, one of our gay members stood silently in protest – and a number of members approached him afterward with words of respect and encouragement. Anyone attending the church on the Sunday before the election expecting to hear political sermons would have been disappointed. Not a peep about the election from the pulpit. No, it was only the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Nevertheless, in the days following the election, protestors surrounded our Mormon temple in Westwood. Their signs extinguished any hope that they were there in furtherance of tolerance: “Mormon Maggots” and “Tax the Cult.” They burned sacred Mormon symbols: Books of Mormon and Mormon temple garments.
So, on that Sunday morning, I breathed a little sigh of relief when I turned on Santa Monica Boulevard, the road fronting the temple. My kids (3 under the age of 6) and I were packed in the Subaru on our way to the chapel behind the temple. I was 7 months pregnant in heels. The kids were particularly excited. They were going to be singing in church and had speaking roles in the annual Children’s Program.
All clear. Maybe the tide had subsided. But then I turned the corner and my heart sank. Two hundred protestors lined the street leading up to the chapel property with large signs and costumes. Angry faces shouting.At that moment, I heard my daughter’s excited voice behind me: “Are all these people here to hear us sing?” I responded, quickly rolling up the window: “Yes, Grace, isn’t that fun?” Oh, the innocence of a 5-year-old.
Would that they were, but no, they weren’t there to hear Grace sing.
The protests at my church were formative for me, politically. First, the targeting of Mormons was unfair and historically ignorant. I mean, protesting at a church? In a nation founded on religious liberty? The protestors picked Mormons as easy targets, sure. Polls leading up to the 2008 election consistently showed Mormons as one of the least popular groups in America (only American Muslims rated less popular as a religious group). But in piling on, did the protestors understand America’s ugly history of persecuting Mormons for their beliefs? The Mormon Extermination Order of 1838? The Supreme Court’s 1890 ruling that Mormons could be excluded from voting or public office on account of their beliefs? Did they know that decision wasn’t overturned until 1996? You think we don’t know how to circle wagons?
There are other reasons why the experience was formative. It was the first time I viewed politics from the perspective of a mother. My kids were in the car driving through a crowd using dehumanizing names and chants. To commemorate Mother’s Day earlier this year, Dana Loesch wrote an article titled “Motherhood is Political.” And it is. Loesch explained why so many mothers have recently become politically active: “It’s unconscionable to me that I would protect my children from running out into a busy street but not protect their right to be free.”
We spend time with band-aids, helmets and scrutinizing snacks for high fructose corn syrup. We suffer through moments of watching our kids fail – struggling with homework and friends – in the hopes that they learn success from that failure. How can we be any less vigilant in protecting them in the political sphere? If we’re not going to bail them out, our government shouldn’t either.
Source: The Great Seal
Finally, my experience that day was a bracing contradiction to what I had been taught regarding American tolerance. I grew up in Southern California. Ronald Reagan was the first president I remembered. I was conservative, sure, but I was a happy warrior. My husband and I married in New York. I worked at the time as an attorney at a large law firm on Wall Street. In both New York City and Los Angeles, I knew my political beliefs put me in the minority among my friends and work colleagues. I had many experiences of defending, and advocating for, my minority political views with my friends and colleagues. And yet, in almost every instance, I was enriched, challenged and loved. And I believe they were equally enlightened by me. As my husband says: “E pluribus frickin’ unum.” We can’t forget that.
Recently, Taffy Brodeser-Akner wrote a piece for Salon that created quite a buzz, titled “I Can’t Believe My Best Friend is a Republican.” The article was about a Republican and a Democrat – friends who, despite their differences, found inspiration and, mostly, love, from their seemingly incompatible backgrounds and views. I identified with this article. In New York and Los Angeles, I was that Republican friend.
My husband’s work brought us recently to Salt Lake City, Utah. I enjoy the easy living of smaller-city life. I quickly became involved in my community and in the political process. I got behind an upstart conservative who defeated a sitting Republican senator in the earliest stages and won the general election in 2010. I threw a tea party at my home, with speeches decrying our “federal masters” and everything. The CNN cameras were rolling.
Last month, I was elected as Vice Chair of the Salt Lake County Republican Party. In my campaign, the divisive immigration issue loomed large. I faced a strong challenge from organized Republicans who took a harder line on the issue – feeling that my stance was too accommodating towards illegal immigration. They tried to mobilize against me. I did not compromise my views, but I demonstrated the importance of tone and tolerance. I persuaded some of them, and even those I could not persuade agreed with me that our issue disagreements were small in contrast to the principles that bind us together.
How did I become so involved in such a short period of time? I drew on my education and professional experience. I used Twitter to become a kind of citizen reporter. I volunteered to write a daily news update for a blog that has hundreds of daily readers (hollyonthehill.com). And I showed up. We can all do that.
My husband mentioned once that my political involvement is teaching my children the importance of civic participation. My daughters especially are seeing a mother busy in good things who is happy and involved. My kids ask where I’m going when my husband rushes home early from work to be with them, and they know that I value my civic participation. And hopefully they will value theirs.
E Pluribus Unum quilt (Out of Many, One) from Follow the White Bunny
But honestly, I’m not doing it for them. I’m doing it for me. I love it. I feel active and involved. And to my sisters out there, whether you agree with me or not, join me: E pluribus frickin’ unum.
“We spend time with band-aids, helmets, and scrutinizing snacks for high-fructose syrup, how can we be any less vigilant in the political sphere?” — what a great line.
Have you become more political in recent years? Any particular trigger?
Isn't it true that the best dreams are those that are for us — and for the people we love?