Most of my life I’ve felt like a salmon. You know, the whole swimming upstream thing–I’ve never quite fit in with those around me. Let me explain. I grew up in the deep red state of Oklahoma with a bluest of blue hearts. People I’ve encountered along the way, people who have witnessed my politics and beliefs in action tend to ask me how I could possibly come that small, one-stoplight town in the heart of redville. I’ve never quite known how to respond except to say that progressives do exist in deep red states. They always have. They are just grotesquely outnumbered. My answer doesn’t explain how I came to be a liberal, but it has had to suffice for a number of years. Now that DJT has won the presidency, more than ever I feel out of sync with those of my family and friends who still live in and believe in that solid redness. Oklahoma is the only state in the nation where every DJT won every county. And while I didn’t unfriend my high school buddies, I did unfollow them on Facebook because I couldn’t stand the constant stream of fake news and click bait polluting my wall. I still don’t have the answer as to how I turned out so differently, but I’m glad I did.
When I still lived in Oklahoma, I not only felt I was constantly swimming upstream, striving for a vision of America I could see that others could not, but I often felt completely out of water. When I was as young as 15 years old, as a sophomore in high school, my class held a mock election between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale. I was the only kid in class to vote for Mondale. When I was asked why I voted the way I did, I responded that I felt that Reagan was lying to the American people about the growing debt under his Voodoo economics and that Mondale, while telling us what we didn’t want to hear, was honest that we’d need taxes to pay for all of the programs Reagan kept rolling out. My classmates called me a commie sympathizer who didn’t recognize how great Ronbo, Ronny Ray Gun really was and that he would defeat those commie Soviets. Mondale went on to lose the 1984 election in landslide (the only state he won was his home state of Minnesota). I was a fish out of water then.
When I moved to Southern California in the late 90’s, I finally felt un-alone. I was surrounded by other salmon, and at least I was in the water. Make no mistake. We are all swimming upstream with the incoming POTUS. But I found others who saw the world in a similar manner to me. Collectively, we seek social justice, equality, and opportunity in a world increasingly defined by concentrated wealth, systemic discrimination, and laws favoring the wealthiest in our society.
Alinsky called them the “haves.” Nietzsche called them the “master” class. Feudal Europeans called them “aristocrats.” I call them corrupt opportunists who have gamed the system in their favor. And they now have the keys to our kingdom.
With the November election, my stream grew shallower. I may struggle to continue swimming upstream, but even when the stream dries up–like it did in Oklahoma years ago–I will struggle on. Luckily, I live in a state that is working to keep water in that stream by setting an example to rest of the nation by showing what hope responsible progressiveness can bring. California is by no means perfect, but we continue to make gains. As my state has the 6th largest economy in the world (yes, California has a larger economy than France), I can’t help but think we are doing something right. We are embroiled in the fight against the ravages of poverty and crime, but we are a diverse people who aren’t afraid of our neighbors because they look or sound differently than we do. One out every eight Americans is a Californian. There are 39 million of us descending from nationalities and ethnicities and religions from all over the world. Our differences make us stronger and more open to our diversity. Yes, hate still exists here, just as surely as it does in the deep red rural areas. We have all of the problems that any first world country has, but we don’t let fear and hate bring us down. We celebrate our diversity. That celebration makes us different than most states in the union. California is one of only a few fish swimming upstream right now. But we are not alone, because the fish swimming upstream are big fish–the most populous, the most economically viable.
When I saw the recent PPP poll where “only 53% of Trump voters think that California’s votes should be allowed to count in the national popular vote. 29% don’t think they should be allowed to count, and another 18% are unsure.” Yes. People in red states, like my home state of Oklahoma, think that 1 in 8 Americans’ votes shouldn’t count. And frankly, our votes already count for less than there because of the electoral college’s disproportionate allocation of electors. These red state voters, many of whom live in rural areas that are sparsely populated, do not even seem to understand–as they certainly do not acknowledge–that the electoral college is already skewed in their favor. For example, Vox reporter Andrew Prokop writes, “…a small state bias is also built in, since every state is guaranteed at least three electors (the combination of their representation in the House and Senate). The way this shakes out in the math, the 4 percent of the country’s population in the smallest states end up being allotted 8 percent of Electoral College votes.” Yet California represents 12% of the American population but only 10% of the electoral college votes (yes, I can do math despite being an English teacher). All this tells me is that my fellow countrymen/women want to strip me of my constitutional rights and are willing to work toward that end. So I have no option but to fight this upstream battle.
And fight I will do.
*note: the image was a found in simple google search; I will amend with the name of the photographer should I find it.