I grew up in Cuba, NY and then Olean, where I graduated from high school in 2000. I am a White female from a working class family and community, and I am proud of my small-town roots. The values I learned from my working-class childhood are still dear to me, and include hard work, compassion, family, service, modesty, and loyalty. I believe in structuring our economy to benefit blue and white collar workers before the rich, and I believe that strengthening public education and providing health care for all makes us a safer, stronger nation. I believe that God's work means serving the poor, living with honor, and treating others with kindness—not judging others or enforcing one brand of faith by law. These values are why I vote Democrat and will proudly support Barack Obama for president in November.
Though many who share my background and values have also voted Democrat all their lives, it distresses me that many working class and small-town folks are hesitant to support Senator Obama this year. It is truly scary how many actually believe Obama is Muslim, unpatriotic, or "too inexperienced" to lead. Worse is how many simply say "I can't relate to him."
I would expect such criticisms from Republicans and others with ideological opposition, but when Democrats and Independents make such statements as their only reason for not supporting Obama, I can't help but wonder if what they are too afraid to say is " I am not comfortable with a Black man for President." After all, Obama's policy platform at its heart embodies classic Democratic ideals, and is almost identical to that put forth by former contender Hillary Clinton, who enjoyed strong support from the white working class.
This is not to sling accusations of racism at anyone who does not share my enthusiasm for my candidate. It is a call for introspection, so that we might sort thoughts from feelings on Election Day, and vote from carefully reasoned opinions. It is virtually impossible for any of us in this nation to be immune from prejudice or plain uneasiness around racial difference. Especially in this community, there are many who will go a whole lifetime without interacting in any meaningful way with people of color. However, most of us can verbally agree that all people, regardless of race, should be treated equally. Do we mean it?
For those of us who are inclined to support Democrats but "just can't relate" to the present candidate, ask yourself: What issues and positions win my vote? Are principles more important than skin color and appearance? Although George W. Bush and his cronies mostly share my complexion, did they better represent my interests because of it?
Let us not forget that we who hail from small towns and rural areas deal with many of our own stereotypes—that we are simpletons, small-minded, or just plain "hicks." There is much speculation that people like us are so ignorant or uncaring about political issues that we will simply vote for whatever candidate resembles us the most and intimidates us least with shows of intelligence and nuance. John McCain's own campaign manager endorsed this stereotype when he said "this election is not about issues." Let us also not forget—as a community with predominantly Irish, Italian, and Polish roots, that our culture considered these groups to be only sub-human when they first arrived as immigrants, and participated in vicious discrimination against them.
The pendulum of public opinion on race changes course as people are given the chance to experience integration and become familiar with those who are different from them. Acknowledging what we have in common as Americans is the first step. If you are a Democrat, Independent, or disenchanted Republican who supports labor, women's rights, public education, the environment, tax cuts for the poor and middle class, and the values of compassion and diplomacy, you will have a friend in President Barack Obama. Please put any hard-to-articulate uneasiness aside and vote on your principles in November. For goodness sake, don't prove the pundits right about us "small-town folk!"