I lived in Phoenix, AZ between the ages of 12 and 15. My father had recently been laid off from his job at a Pilsbury mill and was left with few options for work in our little Oklahoma town. I’m still not sure why, but he decided to become a mechanic. To do so, he moved us to Phoenix to attend some fancy trade school. I was young and didn’t really understand it all. I just knew that we were moving far away from everything I’d ever known.
We were poor. We had to get on food stamps to get by, even though both of my parents were working full-time jobs. They were gone more than they were home, and we lived in a pretty shady part of town. Eventually, I started to make friends with some of the other kids in the apartment complex we lived in. Kids who, like myself, had little to no parental guidance. Bad kids, to put it plainly.
Before we moved I had been a pretty good kid. Good grades, followed rules, and generally kept to myself. I had my rough spots, same as any pre-teen, but nothing too crazy. The more I hung around these other kids, though, the worse I got.
I started stealing. I started “tagging”, or spray painting my new nickname all over the neighborhood. I got into fights. Eventually, I started hanging out with the local gang members. Eventually, after a year or so of being there, I was jumped into their gang (it was the mid 90’s and gangs were still big in the western United States).
I started breaking into homes, and helping my friends break into cars to steal stereos. I was a 14 year old kid smoking weed and disappearing for days at a time. I got arrested for shoplifting. Then I got arrested for shoplifting again. I got arrested for destruction of private property.
After the third arrest I was almost put into a foster home. My mother reached her breaking point and told my father that she was moving back to Oklahoma, with or without him. He had just finished school, so, we packed up and moved back.
I started hanging out with better kids. My grades improved. I wasn’t in trouble with the law anymore. I’ve made mistakes since then, of course, but I’ve generally been a pretty decent human being because I started hanging out with a different group of people.
It doesn’t matter if you’re 14 or 40. We all want to feel like we belong to something.
The people we’re around, the people we’re closest to, dictate who we are more than most of us realize. I don’t think I’m a bad person. But I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be part of a group. I wanted my friends to like me. So I did things I wouldn’t have done under other circumstances. And I probably pushed them to do some things they might not have normally done because we had our identity as a certain type of people and we wanted to impress each other.
These people at the rally… some of them are, without a doubt, shitty human beings. They are racists and they are full of hate. They want America to be nothing but white Christians who all speak English exclusively.
There are a lot of people there, however, who just want to belong to something. They want to fit in and have their friends like them. They want an identity. They probably felt bad about joining that chant but justified it to themselves over the following days so that they could still be part of something.
I think we should keep that in mind. We should remember that not all Trump supporters are disgusting human beings. We should remember it and instead of calling them names and pushing them away, we should talk to them and let them know that they are more than welcome to join our side any time they want. We will welcome them gladly.
The world around us these days is cold and hard. We aren’t going to make it better by shutting out anybody who we disagree with. We need to remember that some of these people know in their hearts that Trump is terrible, but their group has pushed them that way. Talk to them. Don’t call them names or insult them in other ways. Ask them to come to our side. Show them the facts but don’t try to force them to change. Let them do it for themselves.
Try to spread acceptance, not more hate. Trump has that covered. Be better. And be kind to each other. It’s important.