There is a concept in sociology called political socialization. It’s a process in which one’s family, friends, community, schools, religious institutions, media and other factors shape how one forms their political philosophy. Because parents have the most influence over their children’s development, people generally tend to adopt comparable views on politics as their folks.
My political socialization and path to activism began when I asked my dad a question about politics sometime in the mid-1990s. “What do Democrats and Republicans believe?”
“Democrats want a larger government with more taxes. Republicans wants smaller government with less taxes,” he answered. Simple enough it seemed.
“Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” I then asked him.
“I’m an independent,” he answered, during a time when Ross Perot’s bids for the White House were still fresh in people’s minds. He may have called himself an independent, but he did mostly vote Republican and I figured it was because he wanted less taxes.
My dad was also a Vietnam War veteran and vehement anti-communist. Someone once explained to me that socialism was a political system “for the people” more or less. I was convinced that it was a great idea for only a short period of time.
“Dad, I’m a socialist!” I told him in my ignorance.
“Oh, yeah? So you think a janitor should be paid the same amount as a doctor?”
I had no answer and was stupefied for a few moments. He had me convinced right then and there. I was a socialist for all of maybe a few hours and I have never been a socialist again.
Around this time, I became a fan of both punk rock and the stand-up comedy of George Carlin. Their anti-establishment attitudes and defense of classically liberal values (though I didn’t know what “classically liberal” meant at the time) spoke to me. Carlin was relentless in is assault on political correctness and took aim at the folly and corruption of both major parties.
He also blasted religious reaction and hypocrisy, which I witnessed myself in the socially conservative south St. Louis suburbs at a time when Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were at the height of their influence. I recall Christ during the Sermon on the Mount saying, “Judge not, that ye not be judged,” yet these so-called Christians demonized groups of people, especially the GSM community. I was disgusted that such a regressive group of people wanted to impose their views on others. I made it a mission to stick up to their ugliness and marriage equality became one of the issues I cared most about.
As I began to understand the positions of the Democratic and Republican parties beyond the simplistic explanation given to me by my father, I noticed that neither parties shared my values. The Republicans said they were for capitalism and smaller government, which sounded great, but they were the also party of the religious conservatives that wanted to deny marriage equality for GSMs. Democrats, on the other hand, said they looked out for GSM interests but felt the government should intervene in the economy. Why were these the only choices I had?
Then one Sunday morning, I saw a man named Harry Browne speaking to Tim Russert on Meet the Press. As the 2000 Libertarian Party presidential candidate, Browne was participating in a third-party forum with two other candidates and he said things I’ve never heard any candidate say before. He spoke of legalizing drugs, cutting the military budget and how both major parties would contribute to the growth of government.
I was intrigued and searched the internet to find out more. From there I found Libertarian Party, then the Nolan Chart, and on to the Advocates for Self-Government and others. In the mail came campaign materials from the Browne campaign. I discovered many folks calling themselves libertarian who believed people could marry freely, regardless of sexual orientation. They also believed in capitalism and smaller government. I found a movement that shared many of the values I had come to believe in. I had discovered a truly revolutionary and liberating philosophy.
This how I came to principles of liberty. Now here I am, sixteen years later, an active member of my local Libertarian Party chapter with GSM outreach a key part of my activism. I hope that by sharing these principles by marching in the Chicago Pride Parade or handing out literature, I can provoke someone to enlightenment and action the way Harry Browne did to me. Viva la libertad!