opinion | The lines between red and blue America are blurring, not hardening (2023)




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opinion | The lines between red and blue America are blurring, not hardening (1)
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VonJesse Nathan

Mr. Nathan is a poet and teaches literature at the University of California, Berkeley. His first book, Eggtooth, will be out in September.

From the time I was born until I was ten, I grew up surrounded by berries and the sea layer on the plains of Berkeley, California. We cheer on baseball players the Bash Brothers and Rickey Henderson, ride a beard and fly kites at a park by the bay built on a former landfill. My parents then moved their four children to rural south-central Kansas, back to my mother's Mennonite church. Some of his Californian friends thought they had lost their minds. My father was an East Coast Jew; Both were very busy labor lawyers. But they wanted us to be close to our extended family, so just before fifth grade started we got to a place where people measure rain in hundredths of an inch.

Fast20 years ago, Barack Obama insisted that we are one people. In the Pledge of Allegiance that I recited every morning before school in Kansas for the first time in my life, we say we are one nation. But lately, it can seem that red and blue are not only two different worlds, but are doomed.a warming culture war.

Today, I commute between the Bay Area (where I raise my own family) and Kansas several times a year, sometimes spending a month or more on my parents' farm surrounded by wheat, soybeans, alfalfa, and corn. And I'm here to tell you that our divisions are blurring, not deepening: rural and urban America are not as divided as many people think.

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The possibility of this country, the promise, is based on a mutually beneficial union, even if it contains a multitude of differences. What we might call Blue State values ​​(protection of the environment, support for LGBTQ communities, internationalism, racial and cultural diversity) are also valued by people living in Red States. And some of those values ​​(nature conservation, land stewardship, growing your own food) were originally red state values ​​too, which in the blue parts of the country often forget they didn't invent them.

On my block in Oakland, neighbors have turned their front yards into vegetable gardens. A few houses down the chickens hunt and peck. Some of my neighbors long to do what my parents did - "blow up the TV," as they said.John Prine sang, "Go to the field", "Plant a little garden" and look for a slower rhythm closer to the ground.

My mother comes from generations of farmers; She went to study law at the University of California, Berkeley, and met my father, who had studied at Columbia Law School, when they were attorneys representing the United Farm Workers union. Arriving at the farm in Kansas that would shape my childhood, I didn't miss California as much as I loved the country: the streams, the meadows, the smell of the air and the earth.

I found I was an outsider too. She had long hair and wore brightly colored Berkeley clothing. Our farmhouse was full of books by the likes of George Eliot, Rosa Luxemburg andAbraham Joshua Heschel, with posters on the wall by Angela Davis and Pete Seeger. We can make our own tomatoes and handcraft ice cream, but we also travel to the East Coast for B'nai Mitzvah. I fished the creeks but followed the Oakland A's. If I hadn't had a foot in the door through my mother's family roots, I don't know if I would have survived Kansas. It wasn't an easy place to be, being a half-Jewish kid with a weird haircut.

While Kansas and other rural areas across the country provide cities with things like wheat to make bread and energy to power all their hustle and bustle, cities spawn ideas and values ​​that are permeating rural communities more and more, much more so than when I was in school. school in the 1990s. If I were to point to the moment I thought something changed, it might be when my rural Mennonite college put on a play about itDer Mord an Matthew Shepard. That was in 2002. That summer, a small town of a few thousand people near my family's farm held a Pride March for the fourth time. I see more and more electric vehicles on these country roads. Not far from the farm is theSchool of Culture and Rural Creativity, a new gathering place for prairie artists that also helped revitalize an almost-abandoned town. There's even a small queer community at the small high school I went to. I know from my own experience that this was not the case when I was a child.

The fact that people like Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach aremake an effortLimiting advances like trans rights shows how much change is afoot. There are509.000registered Democrats in Kansas and 546,000 people who registered and refused to join a party. That's at least a third of the state's population. Over the past two decades, voters have elected two pro-choice women governor. And it's not like all of those people in Kansas, Texas, Ohio, or anywhere else in the heart of the country can afford or even want to move to California or New York. These so-called red states are their home and many of them will raise their families there. And therefore its values ​​are part of the future of the state. After all, Kansas was the first state to refuse...all around- an attempt to roll back access to abortion after Roe was crushed.

It is true that a white man like me can integrate perfectly into these different worlds, while for others the division is palpable and worsening. Sometimes it can be difficult to see just how much change is happening in an unstoppable, filtered way. The year before Donald Trump was elected, my parents received a swastika in their mailbox on Christmas Day. Up until then, in the two decades since she left California, none of this had happened. I have heard many examples of local police officers profiling the growing population of black and black people. Many Confederate flags fly in Kansas cities, and there are at least a few spots left in the state on the Southern Poverty Law Center's annual list.Map of hate groups.

Still, I contend that Kobach and his ilk recognize—and fear—how real the change is.

I know several farmers near my parents' house who vote democratically, support abortion, queer and transgender rights, and are as knowledgeable about computerized combine harvesters as they are about cattle castration. Some have switched to organic. Others do without the plow altogether. Scientistthe earth institute, co-founded by my friend Wes Jackson, develop perennial grains that can produce food without affecting the soil. This reduces the amount of soil carbon released into the air and significantly reduces erosion and the need for industrial chemicals.

Wes once told me his definition of town and country: rural places convert resources into goods and urban places consume those goods. It's a rough definition, but I like how it reveals the symbiosis between town and country, revealing them as two parts of a whole. The general assumption is that the border between the red and blue states is a wall. But perhaps the endless repetition of this binary assumption places too much emphasis on differences and not enough on a common humanity. As Pete Seeger sang in the old Labor song, "Here are town and country together: We shall not be shaken."

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The problems facing this nation - vengeful racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, homophobia, climate change, economic injustice, destruction of peasant culture, too many assault rifles - are enormous and the gulf between worldviews is startling. But the truth is not only, as Gertrude Stein wrote, that "difference spreads," but that difference spreads. Although our enclaves seem to be morepolarizedneveronline, in this United States, we may be more mixed, more diverse people than we have led to believe. In other words, we can feel more polarized than we really are.

Jesse Nathan's first book: "Eierzahn', a collection of poems to be published in September.

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