Elizabeth Warren used to be a Republican. She grew up in Oklahoma and like any woman in America she’s had to be so many things at so many different times and all of them at the same time—a college-drop out, a wife, a single mom, Republican, wealth advisor, Democrat, senator and a Harvard professor.
It would be exhausting if not perfectly relatable. Well, not the Harvard part, but the rest of it—the push and pull of life and expectations and hopes and dreams and money and survival.
In an increasingly divided country, where liberals are pitted against conservatives, rural against urban, faith with disbelief, the lines have never been sharper, the divide clearer, the words meaner and the fear more palpable. Americans are deeply entrenched in a dissonance that causes us to retreat to conspiracy theories rather than face the reality before us.
I interviewed Elizabeth Warren about what made her change. She’s a Democrat now, one who people worry is “too liberal” with her Medicare for All plan. It’s quite the pivot from the Republican single mother she used to be.
“I grew up in Oklahoma,” said Warren. “We didn’t talk about politics in my house.” Warren’s parents struggled to make ends meet after her father had a heart attack.
Warren said it took her years to see how the politics and policies hurt Americans. That’s when she changed her mind.
“It was working with the banks,” she said. “It was seeing how credit card company’s predatory practices forced people into bankruptcy.” It was all because of laws and loopholes. And Warren worked to change them.
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Ignoring the realities of these policies is a privilege bought by a modicum of comfort that enables you to hide from the pain of others. It’s also an aspect of survival. When you are struggling to stand on your feet, it’s hard to lift up your head and see the hand of oppression pushing you down.
My family also changed. In 2007, two of my sisters were in a car accident. One sister, then 16, was rushed into emergency surgery at the University of Iowa Hospital, where she was given the wrong blood type. Her survival depended on expensive and experimental treatment. I was 24 and had to drive her to her daily therapy appointments where she learned to walk all over again. By 18, she had to declare bankruptcy. In 2008, my Republican parents voted for Obama in the hope he could change our completely immoral healthcare system that profits off the pain of our bodies.
In 2017, after years of protesting Roe v. Wade, my mom donned a pussy hat and marched in the Women’s March. I asked her why and she told me that maybe it’s been watching her daughters grow up, maybe it’s just getting tired knowing that the world needs to change.
It’s a cynical kind of person that can look at the pain of others and just Pontius Pilate wash their hands of the whole ordeal. But it might be a more cynical that for so many of us, the path across the divide is paved with personal tragedy and a new understanding now of what so many others experience. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. But something needs to give.
This year has felt like a year of despair. If in previous years we were fighting, this year has felt like a year of hopelessness. Mass shooting after mass shooting. Complete inaction from our elected leaders. Our lives locked in a battle of protesting the same thing over and over until we die or the earth is engulfed in flames.
And maybe I am young and dumb—37 next month. But I want to believe that if we truly regard the mess of America, the crimes in the White House, the children in cages on the border, the 18 year olds declaring bankruptcy because they learned to walk, the Americans dying because of lack of healthcare, that we’d try to do better. That we’d try to change.