“Why are you a Democrat, Ryan? I just don’t get it.”
That conversation happens a lot more than I care to admit and I can only give a two word answer: I remember. Of course, there’s a lot more to the answer than simply two words, but that’s the gist of it. It doesn’t have the same implications of the je me souviens of my Québécois forebears, but it’s all about remembering. Years ago, before moving to Roanoke, I waited tables. If you’ve never waited tables before, let it just be said that it is a character-building exercise. Between discovering how I related with others and the capacity to generate income from waiting tables at a national chain, it was a significant learning experience.
But there was more. Have you ever been injured on the job? Do you remember that story from the 1990s of the woman who sued McDonald’s following being scalded by their superheated coffee? Well, here’s a combo platter for you. About a month after I began working at the chain restaurant, I was severely burned by a faulty hot-water dispenser attached to a tea brewer. My right hand experienced blistering and it hurt like an angry mother. I was 22 and I had no idea what to do. My employer was useless. So I iced it. No health insurance; couldn’t go to the doctor. Obamacare was still the fevered dream of a liberal, so I couldn’t get coverage from under a parent’s plan. My hand blistered and slowly healed without medical attention; I have no idea what infections I could have exposed myself during that period of unsupervised recuperation. Of course, the bills needed to get paid, no such thing as paid time off when you’re working a low-wage, low-skill job.
A couple weeks after the hot water incident, I developed a cold. Coughing here, there, everywhere. Again, I couldn’t go without the income, so I became patient zero in whatever petri dish that this restaurant was in March of 2007. This cold didn’t respond to a mass influx of OTC medications and an endless stream of citrus and evolved into pneumonia. Again, no doctor options since I had no insurance and the limited income also limited how much medication I could reasonably purchase. It sucked. I was sick for 4 weeks. 4 weeks of hacking and coughing, having a hard time breathing, and having to work for a crowd of people. By the way, have you tried doing a job interview while having a fever of 102 degrees?
It’s an experience, I’ll tell you what.
But that, in short form, is why I’m a Democrat. That’s why I support a living wage or some sort of basic income for every person, universal health care access, and strong labor rights with robust private-sector unions that collectively bargain for all employees. Because for a short period of my life, I learned what it was like to live adjacent to the margins, not truly on the margins, since I could rely on my education and privileged position in society to get me out of the table-waiting game. And while I had always thought of myself as a Democrat before, up until that point, I didn’t understand the implications. It was always an abstraction. Health care was an abstraction. Insurance was an abstraction. Everything was an abstraction from a book. Never real, never experienced. Until then.
That, my friends, that is why I am a Democrat.
(This post was adapted from my original post located here: https://blogginryan.wordpress.com/2017/11/12/i-remember/)