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“What do YOU know about ‘both sides’ in Charlottesville? Were you even there?!”

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by Kellen Squire

I spent last Thursday at the Rockingham County Fair, chairing the Democratic booth for the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County Democratic Parties. Rockingham county is about as red as they come; you might find a few counties in west Texas that’re more red, but this part of the Shenandoah Valley is Trump Country, without a doubt. It’s why, as a part of 2010’s Operation Red Map here in Virginia, my opponent worked with Ed Gillespie to make sure that a chunk of my district that was trending bluer was traded in favor of Rockingham County. Indeed, one of the precincts that got “left behind” in 2010 is now one of the bluest in the state.

It was replaced with eastern Rockingham county- a place that voted 70+ for Trump in 2016. It might only make up 10-11% of my district per population, but in a state legislative race, that can make all the difference. Especially since, even though the total number of “Democrats” and “Republicans” in my district is roughly approximate, the Republican “leaners” show up in off-year elections. Sadly, ours don’t.

Interestingly enough, though, both the Board of Supervisors and School Board members from my part of Rockingham County are Democrats, unapologetically, and have easily won their last six election cycles. But that’s a story for another time.

I offered to chair the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County booth at the fairgrounds last Thursday for at least a few hours, figuring I had the duty to do what my volunteers have been doing enthusiastically at our county fairs for the last few weeks. And I love dialogue, talking to people, and fried food. So it was really a win/win for me. I figured, given the electorate in Rockingham, we’d have the chance to have some very interesting conversations.

Oh, and did we ever. The fair organizers, purposefully or not, saw fit to put us two booths down from a crisis pregnancy center’s booth, who had a video playing on a loop of a fetus in utero. Cute. That actually went fine, though. The only “incident” we had was when one of the ladies from that booth approached me with a pen and paper to ask me about how she, as a pro-life Christian, could vote for a Democrat. I told her point-blank the Republican Party had no desire to actually do anything about abortion rates; they just wanted to use the issue to manipulate people into voting.

To my amazement, she nodded vigorously in agreement. “They’ve been using us for forever,” she said. My retort of “Then why d’you keep voting for them?!?” stayed in my head, and we had a long conversation, which is fodder enough for another article. The biggest takeaway from it for me, though, was when she asked for an example of my assertion that education lowers abortion rates. I told her, “Well, for instance, you’d be surprised how many people don’t know you can get pregnant on your period.”

“What?” she said, incredulously. “You can’t get pregnant on your period!”

Sigh.

The best conversation I had, though, was with a lady who stalked up after seeing a white board we’d set up for people to sign that said “Non-Partisan Declaration Against White Supremacy, #Charlottesville”. One of the Harrisonburg Dems had the idea to do that, and I thought it was a nice touch. The board was crammed full with signatures, which was a great sign in Rockingham county, and more kept coming up to sign it.

Except for one lady. I nodded and said hello to her as she walked by, and she tersely nodded back after darting her eyes over the giant “DEMOCRATIC PARTY” and signs hung about for me, the two other delegates running in Rockingham County, and Lt. Governor Northam. She didn’t slow her pace, though, and was set to studiously ignore us as she continued down the fairway…

… until she glanced over and read the #Charlottesville sign. That stopped her dead in her tracks. She turned slowly, and looked me dead in the eyes.

Well, I thought to myself, this should be fun.

She stalked over, an air of obvious hostility in her demeanor. “Just because someone wants to protect their heritage doesn’t make them a racist,” she said to me. “There were plenty of racists on both sides of that thing,” she said, gesturing to the word “#Charlottesville,” “and plenty of good people, too.”

“No, ma’am,” I said to her soberly. “None of the Nazis that came to Charlottesville were good people. I promise you that.” She recoiled slightly when I said the word “Nazi”, and regarded me disdainfully.

“That’s the problem with you Democrats,” she said, “always demeaning anyone who disagrees with you. They’re a racist, or a Nazi. How would you know, anyway? Were you there?”

I winced as she said this, because the response I was about to give her wasn’t fair. And I generally try not rhetorically stomp on folks who don’t deserve it- which she definitely didn’t. I sense she was angry for a different reason, and was just using me as an outlet; not nice, but something any Democrat running in my neck of the woods has to get used to.

“Actually,” I said, as evenly as I could, “I’m an emergency department nurse from Charlottesville, and I was on duty all last Saturday.”

She stared at me for a second, and then her face dropped. I took no pleasure from it.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I just… I don’t know…” Tears welled in her eyes.

We chatted for a good fifteen minutes. She was one of the Trump voters you hear about that still support him unequivocally, because they didn’t vote for him for any policy reason- he became a way to channel their frustrations with life. Their frustrations with a political system they viewed as equally corrupt and uninterested in serving the Americans they were elected to represent, no matter what letter was in front of their name. But the relentless onslaught of Trump screwups, of unpresidential behavior, of constant scandals and (which she said was most pertinent) relentless Tweeting had worn on her. And what had worn on her the most, she said, was how hostile and nasty our political rhetoric had come.

She stopped abruptly on this last point, just short of laying this directly on the feet of Donald Trump- but I assume that’s why she tried to lead in with me on how “both sides were bad”. Because that’d be an awful tough pill to swallow for someone who had invested so much of themselves into the fraudulent personality that Donald Trump built up.

I told her just that; for me, I said, one of the biggest tragedies was that I saw from the get-go that Donald Trump was dishonest and had no intention of fighting for anyone other than himself. That he was purposefully manipulating millions in order to get that done. That he used the discontent so many people have with the way politics works in this country, and only intended to make it worse. That he had no honor, no shame, and- worst of all- no ability to ever be wrong.

I’ve screwed up many times in my life. I still do, in fact. But the difference between Donald Trump and me is that he’s never, ever had to pay for a single screw-up he’s made. If you want to look at someone who’s suffering from affluenza, look no further than the current President of the United States. He’s never been held accountable for the things he’s done… which means he’s never learned from a single one of them.

When I was in high school, I smoked and drank; I remember coming home once, at about three in the morning, completely trashed. In my inebriated state, I’d chuckled to myself at being clever enough to make it in the back door and into my room quietly enough that my parents would never know.

I’m not sure my mom ever knew- in fact, this may well be the first she knows of it (sorry, mom)- but my dad sure as heck did. And that’s how I got rolled out of bed onto the floor at 5:30am, and was forced to haul 80-pound bags of shingles up a ladder and onto a roof for hours on a sweltering hot July day, puking and hungover. It wasn’t pretty.

Think I ever did that again? But then, that’s the point- Donald Trump has never, ever had to be responsible or accountable for a single thing he’s done in his entire life.

We talked about all of that, and more- and then, she gave wrapped me up in a bear hug, her eyes still misty with tears.

“I just can’t take much more of how nasty everyone is being with each other,” she said. “We have to figure out how to get along, or… I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

She’s more right than she knows; starting with Lee Atwater and Nixon, and moving on to Newt Gingrich, they bred a generation of folks who were taught they don’t have to listen to anyone they don’t agree with. That anyone who didn’t agree with them was the enemy. That any news you didn’t like, or didn’t meet the preconditions of your world view was “fake”. It’s one of the benefits of being an emergency department nurse, because leading with that in my canvassing intro keeps people engaged that would normally shut the door on anyone who’s labeled a “Democrat”. That maybe- just maybe!- the preconceptions they had about Democrats is bunk.

It’s one of the biggest reasons I actually have a shot in this election, and it’s concerned my opponent enough he’s campaigning for the first time in almost a decade. I understand why- he’s a Trump acolyte and former campaign leader running in the Trump Winery district. He’s refused to disavow Trump’s comments about what happened in our community. And until just a few days ago, his county party happily listed Jason Kessler as a member. In the wake of what happened here in Charlottesville, he’s terrified of losing his job, which is keeping him from doing the job he was supposed to do this year- organizing the entire Republican re-election effort here in Virginia this fall.

You want to help keep him up at night? Donate today. Our campaign is people powered- we’ve had over 1,000 unique donations. The Democratic Party of Virginia is helping all they can, but with 87 other races to watch over, there’s no way for them to invest as much in every race as it deserves. But you can help us make up the difference between the party and the pavement today, $5, $10, and $27 dollars at a time.

Let’s get this done, and bring progress together!

Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse in Charlottesville, Virginia, running for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 58th District, once represented by Thomas Jefferson. Donate to, volunteer for, or get the word out about our people-powered campaign today.