Driving into Springfield, Missouri, you might get the hint of metropolitan air. You might smell a little bit of city life in this college town, but that smell is just the wafting of church socials. On each street between liquor stores and fast food restaurants, you'll find a church to match them. We're the home of the Assemblies of God National Headquarters, after all (or as we like to abbreviate it, Ass. of God). In between all of that churchiness, you'll also see the staunch republican oppressiveness coming at you in boots and flannels. They must be purchasing it all from the Bass Pro Headquarters, also stationed here. We are anchor for one Roy Blunt. Yes, the same Roy Blunt that is a part of the "dirty dozen" that sides with big oil, opposes the Violence Against Women Act, and introduced the Blunt Amendment.
The seventh congressional district is the most conservative part of Missouri. It includes Joplin, Branson (which, to me, is a city in drag and shouldn't take itself so seriously), and the largest city in which I live, Springfield. Most importantly, it includes all of the surrounding little communities in which farmers, teachers, mechanics, and Joe and Joetta Anyguy live. I have lived here a while now, and while I've been insulated by my friends and chosen family (who are less than republican), being a liberal in a district of staunch republicans hasn't been easy.
Recently I took a mandatory course in American Government at my public university in town. My professor, a doctoral graduate who had been teaching for years, was a republican who had no trouble discussing his political beliefs. He made sure to mention his leanings and his stance on the Marriage Amendment (banning gay marriage in Missouri), passed in 2004. He was not overly concerned with hiding his ideas or allowing us range to develop our own leanings, learning about party affiliations. However, when questioned about what parties we as a class would align with in a two-party system (if we had to vote for one or the other), I was one of five who favored the democratic party, while the rest of the 40 kids in class favored the republican party. The reason, they stated? They were raised that way. Like a religion, they had inherited their political party from their parents.
I can say one of the things I enjoy about this part of the state is our loyalty to tradition. Yes, we do things like we've always done them. Try our food--our recipes haven't been changed for years because we've perfected them. Our hospitality is fantastic, even to strangers. But passing on blindly our beliefs, our system of government? Where is our commitment to questioning authority that was such an inherent part of our founding? We've lost it.
Now, I can't say that I'm a democrat. I'm not a republican, either. I'm a staunch demo-independa-gree-litarian. Don't find many of us around here. I'm not liberal enough to be liberal. But I've also been told I'm not gay enough to be gay, not fat enough to be fat, and not weird enough to be weird. And maybe it's just because I've learned to adapt to my surroundings, like a sociopolitical chameleon. I learn when I can speak my peace about healthcare and reproductive rights and when not to engage in discussion. Of course, I don't want to challenge Jim Bob Assofgod to a discussion on gay marriage, because his defense is going to end in "because God said so," while mine would end with "because it's an individual civil right." I've learned to bite my tongue and challenge those who seek my challenge to a battle of wits--we mutually benefit from the exchange.
I do hope one day that my city loses its seriousness and its staunch republican flair. Partisan ideology has harmed us beyond repair, making everyone feel uncomfortable. By aligning with the republican party in town, you suddenly feel you must be pro-life, anti-gay, and macho. Ask the local log cabin republican (the only one!) who felt disowned and dejected for writing in the local newspaper. By aligning with the democrats, you suddenly feel like you're on a one way street driving the wrong way. After all, we have much to gain by moderating our positions, seeing it both ways, knowing where we both stand, and finding common ground. We've all seen what being too disagreeable does--NOTHING--and where being too stubborn gets us--NOWHERE. We have to open up to the possibility that being one or the other isn't the answer.
In the meantime, I think I'll just enjoy questioning my government officials, participating in my government, and being a demo-independa-gree-litarian. Springfield needs me.