The year was 2000. I filed my first tax return. I think I was owed money from the government. I am not sure but I did not follow-up or deem it worth my time to find out. I was young, unencumbered and singularly apolitical. In the few years I had been eligible to vote, I chose not to exercise my franchise and I was proud of it. Often I remarked to friends that all parties concerned were horrible and what was the point of voting one in over another. I sat in a tiny circle of intellectual, politically aware friends feeling alien. The conversation was intense, their engagement a puzzle. Most of the issues they talked about went straight over my head.
Then I moved to the US. I worked, studied, paid taxes and did little to interact or engage in anything for two reasons. I was not a citizen. Paying taxes was not optional. All I knew was that the US has a President, not a Prime Minister and that elections were not the vibrant, chaotic, loud carnival it was in India. Over the years I figured that there were two parties. Beyond that I could not be bothered to figure out where I lay on that curve, what was it I believed in and what was worth fighting for.
All this changed in 2010. I became a mother. I became a citizen. The two were seemingly unrelated until the 2012 election. For the first time in my adult life I wanted to be part of the electorate that decided what policies would govern us for the next few years. The choice seemed obvious to me. I registered as a democrat and rooted for Obama. In the rare conversations that arose about politics, my friends tended republican and their resonant cry was “Why should I pay taxes to subsidize xyz for people who do not contribute to the tax pool?”
“Why indeed?” I wondered but felt strongly enough about womens’ rights and marriage equality that it overrode every other feeling I had. I did not pause to think. Then a few more things happened that affected me personally. I now had in my family children who were part of another family that was disproportionately affected by the policies that less government meant.
These people I had grown to love and respect did not wait for government handouts because they wanted to laze around and do nothing. On the contrary they needed a hand up so they could pull themselves up from situations that were circumstantial. They strived hard to go to college, to find jobs while they battled illnesses that consumed them because of their surroundings. They were the product of generations of sub-par policies. I cannot generalize and will not attempt to do that, however, it opened my eyes to very real need that exists. That religious and governmental interference on women’s bodies was not to be tolerated. That there were women and children who suffered because of these policies.
My children go to public schools. They are blessed with teachers who are vested in their success. The special education program has seen my children improve by leaps and bounds. That includes guidelines from the education department at Federal and State levels. Specialists who evaluate children to figure out how best to help them. Tools and resources to optimize the time my children spend at school. Extended school year programs to make sure my children do not regress too much as they start a new grade.
As a mother of a neurotypical child, I probably would have wondered why schools need so much funding when my child is not using many of those services. As the mother of children who need help, I am beyond grateful to see my tax dollars at work raising the next generation of citizens to be productive, functioning adults.
All this because of investment in public schools and policies that are inclusive. The current political climate is aiming at destroying those provisions in exchange for lower taxes and cronyism. This is now personal.
My mother who has not paid into the social security system and who will one day be a citizen here will be bankrupt by the medical insurance industry if not for Medicaid. This is a system into which my husband and I have contributed for over 20 years without the expectation of anything in return. We are not talking of the impoverished here. I called many clinics for a consultation for my mother and was told I could not have an appointment because they do not take on patients without insurance. This, even when I was willing to pay out-of-pocket. The system is broken. There seems to be no will to fix anything but a savage need to destroy what little exists.
I am termed a snowflake and a liberal. I had to look up those terms. I realized that I am a liberal and perhaps a snowflake and I am darned proud of it. If I have been rabidly apolitical, the year 2016 made sure I morphed into someone who now knows more than the fact that there are two parties. I am actively engaged in finding out how local politics work. I am aware and listening. I am willing to raise my voice where it counts. I call, fax, email my representatives so my voice counts. I am now part of this system of humans who can make a change. The government which until recently was an alien, monolithic black box now appears to me like a beehive. A hub of active, dissonant voices doing their best to protect interests and going beyond the self. We may have failed as a nation in 2016. I sure hope 2018 and 2020 will change. Government and politics I now realize are the people. People like me.