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All Politics Are Personal

by Kali Ferguson

November 7,2008

This is not a confessional. However, I will confess one thing from my past. I swore for years that I was not a political person. I did not like or trust politicians, would rather watch Bravo than CNN, and felt creativity was more valuable than political views.

Although I still hold some of those opinions, I now admit to a different perspective: everything about me is political, and I bet the same is true for everyone I've ever met. No one thing changed my outlook. I developed a sense of how real people were affected by my country’s policies at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in South Africa. In 2008, I see the possibility of our nation’s leader looking (and possibly thinking) more like me. These and other experiences made me care more about politics.

That I didn't identify with local, state, or national politicians is not rare. Many folks I know do not directly feel the impact of policy on our daily lives. This is not because there is none; it is just hard to nail down in the midst of bills, work, family and recreation unless we are inclined to political analysis. Even some friends who are heavy followers of policy, rhetoric, and foreign affairs often have no more than their lofty opinions to chew on at night. Government can be off-putting to those of us who need to make direct connections between our lives and those of other human beings.

When I listen to my parents’ generation talk about the civil rights movement and their involvement in shaping national policy, they seem to have been clear about their objectives and methods toward gaining equality for all people. I look at how my generation takes its (relatively) full citizenship for granted, and it is no surprise that we don’t feel the same urgency as our predecessors to participate fervently in organized political action. We are challenged to change more than laws – we must change (hidden) attitudes, systematic trends, and limited, outdated solutions to chronic social ills that are difficult to expose. Until now.

This moment in history has poked many "non-political" people into action because we can trace decisions in so many areas back to our personal survival. For better or for worse, immediacy works. On all sides of political opinion, people around the world feel invested in our large-group decisions. We identify with a cause. We know of something we can do to affect our own well-being as well as our community's status. As for my fellow spiritual seekers, we feel ourselves a part of something bigger than we can name at this juncture, and we are following that calling.

In the times to come, how can we make politics more personal? How can we convince our leaders to remember every person who granted them a position of power? How can we convince “everyday people” of their own influence on the rest of us, whether through voting, volunteering, recycling, pursuing their purpose, practicing healthy consumer practices, etc? How can children of this privileged society begin to care about a world society and a politics of fairness? How can we help them (and ourselves) grow into adults who truly take politics personally, who see our inter-relationship with all the people on this planet? I don’t know all the answers, but I value the questions.

I do know now that everything I do and the way I do it is political. Every label I answer to, especially in this divided nation, is political. If I take the person I am and place her in this same town fifty or one hundred-fifty years ago, my current lifestyle would be impossible.

I am who I am because of many people’s politics. I patronize any restaurant I choose and read all the time because someone fought for my political rights. I have friends from Mexico, Kenya, and Myers Park because of local, state, national and international policy implemented before and after my birth. I wear low-priced clothes from high-fashion stores because of unfair trade we allow with our votes. And I have the right to write and publish this article because of policies that should support all people, and perhaps one day they will.

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