America – a reality show?

I grew up in a politically active family. My parents supported various local, state and national candidates and then became influencers encouraging neighbors, friends and strangers to support their bids for the office they were seeking.
This was done by ringing doorbells, hosting social gatherings, attending rallies, placing signs and a lot of talking. I could barely walk the first time I remember standing at a door with my mother as she shared the qualities of a local candidate running for county commission.
I was scrolling through social media the other day reading opinions on the shifts in Southern politics from one party to another based on the passage of the Civil Right Amendment.  I came along after that monumental legislation and watched the continuing struggle to live up to those standards and heard the thoughts of whites and blacks from the city too busy to hate – Atlanta in the 1970s. My greatest template of course came from my parents, and especially from the point of view of my mom – a business woman, who began her own business in the 1950s, and in the 1970s supported the Equal Rights Amendment.
During those years however, I never once heard the topic of race discussed in my parents’ personal political conversations.. There were  no dog whistles used, just finding candidates that had a desire for equal opportunities for all, good paying jobs, potential for education, and rising out of poverty. Those were the priorities for a family fighting its way up from the farms of Appalachia to a successful life in the city.
Many city folks looked down upon the rurals that migrated into the cities to find better jobs and opportunities. Often times we found ourselves segregated into mill villages or the neighborhood remnants of the former because that is where the housing was most affordable. Some quickly worked to conform and cloak their origins by adapting to fashions, norms, speech patterns and doing everything to make opportunity more likely and climb the social ladder. When one could afford it, families moved to nicer neighborhoods and melted into the city landscape leaving the cotton, corn and hayfields behind.
These were the steps that my folks walked and succeeded in working their way up through the economic class barriers. Was there racism? Of course, there was. Even if families didn’t see it in their own lives, the worst of it was piped into our homes through the evening news. Was there discrimination based on class, sex, ethnic background, area of origin? Of course, there was. But then we went out into the streets from our homes and found a way to live, work, play, attend school, and survive together.
Was it easy? No. People struggled. People argued and fought. People disagreed. In the 1970s, I saw my folks and many others like them began a shift from FDR Democrats towards Republicans largely because of the news media pumped into our homes. The endless coverage of long haired, unkept people who were protesting against America and all that my parent’s generation held dear – a country where someone could come from nothing, work hard, and create a better life for the next generation. A land where people are self-reliant and aspire to greater opportunities. That is what our family has known since before the country’s founding.
My mother looked at women who like her desired the passage of the E.R.A. sharing other more radical points of view that she could not support, so she walked away. My father and she moved to being more Independents, sometimes supporting Democrats which did not seem to align with any of these hippie notions and choices and sometimes supporting Republicans.
The radicals and the alignment eventually of Democrat candidates to their causes shown on television caused that shift. Until those days, my folks and theirs before them would have been described as yellow-dog Democrats since the days of the Civil War.
Today, I see similar images and thoughts as seen in the 1970s of those who wish to tear down all that my parents taught me to hold dear about this country. Since the Twitter and Facebook feeds and the 24-hour news media floods our phones, TVs and computers, with images of protests, raucous rhetoric, and violence targeting authority figures, another shift is coming. Just like it did for my folks, these images and philosophies will likely move more people to walk away and aspire to the ideals which gave us the American experience.
I grew up in a South where opportunities were opened up by the struggle for civil rights for blacks and for women. These peaceful protests sometimes marred with violence from the opposition were ones my folks did support. Many today wish to act like that struggle did not succeed and once again our nation’s citizens are fighting for similar rights. I witnessed the changes effected by the struggles of the blacks and women of greatest generation and the oldest baby boomers, they changed the world and it is a better place because of their actions. To try to throw us back to that place again and erase all those gains, does a disservice to generations who struggled to lift us out of the depths of that past.
What is the reality show of America? We do our best as a country when we all come together and find middle ground, compromise, and push the American experiment forward. While some may not agree with where we are going, we are now finding the new middle. The question is will the middle be closer to the left or the right. Will everyone find their way there or will some be so lost that it causes our country to split down the middle. Only time will tell.