“Republican or Democrat?” the old man asked, barely looking up from the other side of the table. “George,” his name tag said. I’d been waiting half an hour, listening to him ask the same question to everyone that approached his table. Each time he asked, my breath grew more shallow. Abandoning my roots to follow my convictions was absolutely as difficult as I imagined it would be.
For the past fifteen years I’ve voted in this same little church, but the lines had grown in proportion to the town. The whole country is buzzing about the primaries, and my community is no different. I looked over my shoulder one last time. I didn’t see one familiar face, thank God.
“Democrat,” I answered. My chest was tight, but I said it anyway. I wondered if the pen would slip out of my sweaty hands. George barely looked up over the rim of his brown plastic frames. “Sign on line fifteen of the white book.” There were far fewer names in the white book. Far fewer traitors in my hometown.
George handed me a yellow slip of paper and sent me to the next table to pick up my ballot. Switching my voter registration to Democrat reminded me of the day I stood with my wife and little boy, “moving our letter” to the Baptist Church, after growing up in an entirely different denomination. I took neither decision lightly.
The Democratic ballot was much shorter. No local offices were listed at all. No small town politician in Alabama is crazy enough to identify as a Democrat. In central Alabama, everybody knows the words “socialist” and “satanist” have the same number of syllables. To be a liberal in the South means you are a tree-hugging baby killer who drives a gas-sipper and wants to take away everyone’s guns. Yet I was doing it anyway.
I looked over the ballot one last time. Hillary’s got a lot of baggage, but she seems to be the most Presidential of the bunch, I thought. I could hear the voices of my other closeted liberal friends, saying, “Jesus was a socialist Jew.” While that sounds great, voting for someone with the hashtag #feelthebern takes me back to sex Ed class, my freshman year of high school. I was leery of voting for someone whose campaign slogan sounds like symptoms of an STD.
The struggle was definitely real.
I filled in the bubble and took a quick photo of my ballot to memorialize the day I sold my soul to the devil. As I slid my ballot into the machine, another little old man handed me an “I Voted” sticker. I half wondered if my tires would be slashed by the time I returned to the parking lot. I don’t have any political bumper sticker on my car, but I had just joined the Dark Side.
I kept my eyes locked on my iPhone as I headed toward the exit. I didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone else in line, certain they could spot a brand-new raging, flaming liberal from a mile away.
What is one supposed to do, on the day they become a Democrat? I wondered.
Did I need to change my profile picture to the image of the red, white, and blue “H”? Should I become vegan? Would I have to put one of those bumper stickers with all the pagan symbols on my car? More important, do I need to have a closed-door meeting with my pastor, so I can confess? I couldn’t imagine there being much worse.
Growing up, I heard people say you couldn’t be a Democrat and a Christian. Yet, my Granddad, one of the best men I’ve ever known, voted Democrat nearly all of his adult life. He also spoke rarely and kept his opinions to himself. Maybe he felt the panic of being a closet liberal, too. Or maybe he didn’t care. They were different times, with a whole other set of political rules. He grew up during the Great Depression and lived like an orphan for most of his childhood. He knew what it was like to grow up poor and powerless. I wish I had talked to him more about his politics.
I voted my conscience for the first time on Super Tuesday. I didn’t vote the same as most of my family or my church. I’m fully aware that the November map for Alabama is already colored red, but I voted my convictions anyway. I went against the flow, exercised my own rights, and stood up for what I believe. In my opinion, having the right to do that means America is still pretty great.
On Super Tuesday, I didn’t just become a Democrat. I became my own person.
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Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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