Rishabh Kewalramani: My Democratic Party

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 - 8:33pm

I don’t blame my parents. I don’t look down upon them for their apathy. I definitely don’t consider them to be ignorant or anything less than intelligent. They were new to this country, to the language, to the quirks and they had a family to feed. I don’t blame them for not knowing the first thing about American politics. Consequently, I got to figure out who I was politically by myself. My party identity wasn’t handed down like the necklace that’s given to new brides generation after generation in my family. My political leanings were organic because even as an eight-year-old kid, I was attracted to the guiding message of one of the parties more than the other. Yes, you did, in fact, read that correctly — I was eight years old when I first got involved in American politics. I made “John Kerry for President” buttons at an event at my school.


What attracted me then and continues to drive my liberalism to this day was the inclusivity of that campaign’s rhetoric. As a kid whose first language wasn’t English and who was often picked on for bringing Indian food for lunch, all I wanted was to fit in. As I grew up, I felt that the Democratic Party granted that wish — I felt like I could belong. But, when I look at my party today, I can’t help but think if I was an eight-year-old in 2018, would I be making buttons for the Democratic Party?


At the most inopportune time, it seems my party — the party I’ve worked for, donated to, even worshipped to some extent — has decided that they want to follow a path that closes doors rather than opens them. Even a cursory glance at the liberal corners of social media shows a civil war within the party. When I worked for the Democratic National Convention Committee in the summer of 2016, one of the guiding themes of the whole experience was that what made it so hard to put on a Democratic convention, as opposed to a Republican one, was the diversity in the party. From unions to minority and ethnic groups, the convention was supposed to be a celebration of the inclusivity that drew this kid looking to belong in the first place. But that utopia began to whittle away right in front of my eyes as on each night of the convention, different factions of the party decided to voice their displeasure. I sensed then that my party was at a tipping point.


While this was going on, the Republican Party adopted one of their least inclusive platforms yet, promising walls and bans while helping only a select few at the top of the economic ladder. I went to high school in one of the most conservative townships in my state; in a 2008 mock election at my middle school, John McCain won 75 percent of the vote. I have friends who hold real conservative principles and whose families have voted exclusively Republican for generation upon generation.

These people understand that the Republican Party is no longer the conservative party they grew up attracted to. They are honestly trying to find it within themselves to be the first in their families to cast ballots for Democrats, only to be told by people on Twitter and on their campuses that we don’t want their membership and they are not progressive enough to be Democrats. I don’t know when exactly it happened, but somewhere along the way if you wanted to be a real Democrat it wasn’t enough to want a public option for health insurance or to make college more affordable; suddenly, if you didn’t believe in full-blown single payer or free college for everyone, your liberal card was taken from you. Furthermore, if you are a person of faith who believes that life starts at conception, then you can forget about it. We don’t want you. As a result, my friends, who were looking to belong just as I once did, were destined to a life as political nomads.


In a time when one party has closed its doors and actively passes legislation that either hurts the majority or only helps the minority, my party should have stood up. My party should have said enough is enough. They should exclaim, “it doesn’t matter whether you’re Black or white, rich or poor, young, old, if you’re liberal or conservative or somewhere in between, you can be a member of this Democratic Party!” It’s not too late. My party can still be the party I grew up idolizing. My party can be the one that’s for helping people, and I couldn’t care less if you believe in a 50 percent top tax rate or one at 30 percent.


Rishabh Kewalramani can be reached at rkew@umich.edu