Things I have heard about my country since enrolling in my government, politics, and citizenship class: America has more guns than people. America moves from one race to the other to focus its hate. America praises a leader who suggests that the solution to all our problems is more discrimination. I could go on about the terrible things I have heard about my country, trust me.
Truthfully, before GPC, I couldn’t have given a damn about politics. I simply didn’t see the point in caring about several old, white men sitting around a long table in squishy chairs reading memos. However, I loved my country. I had a sense that America wasn’t perfect, but I certainly believed it was the land of the free and home of the brave. Why shouldn’t I have? I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the hardcore left-wing tree huggers. I had lived a wonderful life. I did not have a worry my entire world more important than boy troubles or getting a paper turned in on time. I honestly still don’t. I don’t have to worry about my next meal, or how to make rent.
It was hard to begin to see things in a different light, to form actual political opinions. Gradually, not suddenly, I began to speak up. I am usually a loud and confident person in school, but at first I quite truthfully had nothing to say. I could tell you who the first president of the United States was and I could tell you the president now. Could I tell you what a single transferable vote was? No. Could I have told you the exact differences between the legislative and judicial branches? No. Could I have even told you what was on the news this week? Laughably no. After learning some solid information, there was room to learn something different in class: What you care about. On Mondays, we always had a discussion on current topics and then suddenly, I knew things. These things, to my utmost surprise, were actually interesting. I found myself getting up earlier to watch the news in the morning. I searched The New York Times website for the latest polls. I even got a twitter, something I vowed never to do, and followed all the big news stations. I started blurting things out at the dinner table, things that shocked my family.
However, this new branch of intelligence was tainted quickly. As I became more involved in knowing what was going on in my country, I learned some terrifying statistics. I learned about all the homeless people and those who live below the poverty line, I learned about people who were shown hatred because of their race or religion, and most recently, I learned about the mass shootings that now occur every day. This was not how I pictured America. I didn’t exactly picture beautiful meadows and beaches, people hand in hand running toward the sunset, but I also didn’t picture all the bodies, lives all wasted. One night, I was reading about a recent shooting, and suddenly I thought to myself, “My country is terrifying, and I hate it.” This realization was so sad for me that I spent a while figuring out my thoughts.
The government, I had learned, is more than a little corrupt. For example, one of our lessons in class was of the term, “Gerrymandering,” where a candidate or party manipulates boundaries to be in their favor, so to speak. But it wasn’t just that the government was crooked. The leaders our country praises nowadays are so extreme it is nearly comical. Nearly. It isn’t funny because hundreds of thousands of people take these people seriously, people who, by the way, are both republican and democratic. The colorful, ridiculous, and shiny political rallies and debates are becoming more and more like a reality television show. The rising body count of mass shootings was on my mind nearly constantly, but what finally made me hate my country was, ironically, the hatred groups put on one another. I had heard so many stories of violence against muslims that it made my head sort of spin. I hated the place where this could happen and yet is still so boldly called the land of the free and the home of the brave…
Wouldn’t it be a sad story if I ended it like that? “I used to love my country but I found out some horrible things that go on inside it and now I hate it, the end.” Thankfully, GPC did not only teach me about the bad, I also learned that this country has a lot of good.
I learned that one citizen can actually make a difference in the government. If a person tries really, really hard, and gets other people to want the same things, then they will have a say in what their country looks like. But that wasn’t what caused my change of heart. It is entirely possible that GPC opened my eyes to a different kind of participation. Much to the embarrassment of my friends around me, I started talking to strangers. This is what made me love my country once again. Meeting people, meeting citizens outside of my tiny, insignificant bubble of OES was fascinating. The fact that I could hold a conversation with an everyday person and have them treat me with respect, attentiveness, and genuine intrigue is moving. America is not perfect, not even close. The political race has become a game show. The media has so much violence to cover that it barely seems like you see anything else. The government is unjust in it’s manipulative and aloof tactics for personal success. It is the people who save this country. They make me proud of where I live. I have come to firmly believe that if there is enough compassion to counter hate, then America will never be truly broken.