It’s Monday night of the Republican National Convention. My friend Ryan, a well-connected member of the Delaware GOP, has obtained two passes to the chairman’s welcome party. Though my views lean to the left and I would never vote for Donald Trump, I gladly accept the invitation to attend the event. Of course I’ll have to go in undercover, maintain my best behavior, and never admit I’m not a Republican. When I say I’m from Massachusetts, I’ll have to point out how annoyed I am with Elizabeth Warren; when asked about Trump, I’ll have to mention I would have rather had Rubio, but of course I’d never vote for Hillary, because, of course, she belongs in jail. If I can maintain these ideas in my casual, but sure-to-be-awkward conversations, then I’ll do just fine.
It’s about 8 o’clock and we’re in line to get into the party. The line is stretching several blocks down the block, and we’re surrounded by GOP members from all across the United States. As Ryan put it, “hanging out with Republicans is like hanging out with your grandparents”; they’re often older, think differently from me, and are a little behind my progressive, modern views, and those of many members of my generation. This of course is a broad generalization, and is not at all a specific description of every Republican.
Tensions had been running high in the days prior to the convention, as several police shootings had been seen across the country, followed by massive protests, and even the targeting and killing of police. Though as I was standing in line, an uproar of cheers and applause came upon the street; looking up I notice each and every person standing around clapping and cheering as a group of police officers walk by. I join in, and watch as the humbled officers march on. Some Americans, particularly Democrats, are quick to make fun of Republicans for their unconditional support of police and troops. Republicans always emphasize their support of the troops, and many Democrats seem merely mention the troops, or even to skip over them in their rallies and speeches. But after weeks of criticism, and even violence, against police, the noble men and women protecting us at the convention deserve our applause at the very least. While the left wing, the group I most identify with, is often critical of the military, the right wing emphasizes pride and support for our military and those who serve.
Later on in line, we come across a group of feminist demonstrators called Code Pink. They are holding up signs and chanting for an end to war. The Republicans around me are quick to agree that they too would love to end war. “I’m all for peace!” proclaims one woman beside me. Another man, an Iraq War veteran, adds “Let’s end our wars!” Many of the GOP members around me line up to take their pictures with the Code Pink demonstrators. As the veteran and his friend, who is sporting an NRA shirt, are taking their picture with Code Pink, one of the demonstrators asks if they’d also support banning assault rifles. The man in the NRA shirt laughs out loud and said he could never agree with that. Not too surprising. But much to the demonstrators’ surprise, and unfortunately to my own surprise, so many of the conservatives around me are quick to announce their opposition to war.
As a Democrat from a family and state full of Democrats, I’ve never truly identified or agreed with the Republican Party. As much as I work to understand the views of the opposing party, there are many pieces I’ve overlooked. The right wing tends to be more outspoken in supporting our troops; they take more hawkish policies, they support strong national security, and they vote for a powerful military with a massive budget. However, I mistook the hawkishness and strong support for troops to be a stance in favor of war. I was wrong to assume a position like that. At first I felt embarrassed to be so foolish and to have jumped to such a rash conclusion. But then I remembered what I had experienced was the real goal of Wake the Vote: challenging your preconceived notions and preexisting political ideology. Though Wake the Vote is a non-partisan group, of course we all have our own set of beliefs and values. However, by immersing ourselves in the political process, taking part in discussions with people who hold different values, and being open to other things, we can take away valuable lessons on how to live in a truly bi-partisan society. We may not all take away the same realizations or lessons, but we must be able to respect, empathize, and cooperate with those across the aisle from ourselves.