Sometimes, things can just really be complicated. I had returned from shopping the other day, and was parking in the handicapped spot in front of our yellow brick 1895 townhouse in Fox Park. I noticed a guy distributing political doorknob hangers on my block, just starting on the other side of the street. I was listening to one of the hourly news briefs on public radio, and so I just kept watching him. Nice looking black man dressed well, but casually in slacks and a sweatshirt, modest colors. Maybe he’s in his fifties. Now he’s crossing the street and going straight past me and up the steps to my place. Stephen is home. He rings the doorbell, which is a video system. Stephen is not answering. He comes back down the steps after a while, just as I am exiting the car and gathering the groceries.
“Do you live here?” he inquires.
“Yes, I do.”
Reading from a card he says, “I’m looking for a Stephen.”
“He’s disabled, but you can talk to me about this.”
We settle in at the bottom step to the townhouse. I set my bags down on the first step. I notice that he is wearing a Vote Yes on Amendment 3 sweatshirt, white with bright pastel colors. The door hangers are similarly decorated, and he has a handful of them. Even though I haven’t really sought out information on Amendment 3, my progressive network of friends has pretty much already convinced me that this is just another scam conservative attempt to fund a big business and blur the line between public and private education under the guise of doing something helpful. But I haven’t studied the matter in depth at that point.
“I can tell you right now there’s no way either Stephen or I are going to vote for Amendment 3,” I announce half a decibel louder than my normal voice.
“Ok, why not?”
“Well, for starters, I don’t think this is how the State of Missouri should be funding public education. If in fact that’s actually where the money ends up. The way I understand it, this is actually modifying the Missouri Constitution, and it is exempted from the requirement that no tax money can be spent on private education.”
The man is looking at me, but not saying much, so I continue.
“I don’t want my tax money going to support education in some private school. It’s fine if you want to send your children to a private school, but I shoudn’t have to pay for that. My money should go to public education. Furthermore, if the State of Missouri thinks that the communities in Missouri need financial assistance to fund education, they should directly levy a tax for that purpose, and make sure the money goes where it’s supposed to go.”
He seems to accept my reason, “So that’s your reason, then?”
“Well, yes, but it’s more than that.” Then I go off on a true liberal Jym Andris tirade. “Look, I think it’s these Republicans that control the Missouri legislature. They are constantly trying to tear down this wall between church and state. But I think it is really important that the state does not support any particular religion. That’s why I don’t think these Charter schools are a good idea, because they siphon off talent and money from an already underfunded and depleted public school system. I think democracy is for everyone and not just the rich, talented or the allegedly heavenly blessed!”
Now this man, I’ll call him Reginald Harrison, has been saying things back to me off and on. The more heated the discussion has become, the more supportive he has become. He says at one point, “Right on, brother!” and at another point, “You are really speaking the truth.”
So at some point, the conversation is between Reginald and Jym, now. “But Reginald, I don’t think that sweatshirt you’re wearing is exactly on our side.”
“I’m allowed to wear anything I want, when I go around.”
“Ok, but I’m trying to understand why you are apparently supporting the amendment and wearing that pro shirt. Are you getting paid for this, is that it?”
“Yes, but it’s more than that.” Then he explains, “When I talk to people about this, I like to give them a chance to speak their views. Look at all sides of the issue.”
Now we start talking on a more personal level. We talk about the fact that us older folks still care about politics and issues. “These younger folks, they won’t do nothing,” he opines.
“Well, there’s a lot of younger folks that are demonstrating for justice,” I counter.
He starts talking about how “you need to just mind your own business and respect the police.” All lives matter, he suddenly announces.”
“Certainly, and black lives matter, too,” I reply. I’m thinking, can we really be having this conversation?
We’re on to Ferguson now. I wonder how he sees me at this point. I say, “Well, being a gay man, I think that democracy is for all of us and not just the majority. He doesn’t say anything to that. I continue with, “I’m a Christian, too, but once again, democracy is not just for the Christians, it’s for everyone.”
Now he has quite a bit to say. “Then you know all about Revelations. We’re only here for just such a short time.” Now it’s my turn to pass on the conversation. I have to emphasize here that even though Reginald and Jym are apparently far from consensus in terms of how they view these issues, the conversation is very cordial and respectful. We are meeting each other, so to speak, with both feet on the ground and squarely. He tells me more than once that he is enjoying the conversation, and I feel the same way.
He volunteers then that he is working for a local politician. I want to be clear here, that I don’t really know whether his lobbying for Amendment 3 is connected to this work, though I did wonder about that. I say to Reginald, “Oh, I know them. I think they’ve grown a lot. They’ve learned to work with people who disagree. They’re Muslim, I think.” He nods in agreement.
It’s time to wind it down. I say, “Well, I’ve got to get these groceries into the house. I’ve got some frozen things in here.” We say our goodbyes on a first name basis. I thank him for his political work and a good conversation, and he is likewise thanking me. As he starts to go on his way, though, I can’t resist saying, “I think you might reconsider wearing that sweatshirt.”
Later, when I come out, every single door on the street has the colorful pro Amendment 3 door hanger.
I’ll bet you think your at the end of this epistle, but there’s more. Clearly, I still haven’t learned the lesson that the Universe is trying to teach me.
Next night, just as I’m getting ready to put supper on the table for Stephen and me, the phone rings. That’s the deal, I do the cooking, he does the dishes. Stephen takes the call, and after some garbled exchange, he says, “It’s for you.”
“Who is it?” comes the obvious and reasonable reply.
“I don’t know, she wants to talk to you.” He adds, “I think you should take it.”
Grumbling, I reach for the phone. “Hello.”
“Is this Jayms Andris?”
“Who’s calling, please?”
The voice of an African American woman, I would be willing to bet, identifies herself and says, “I’m calling to see if you have information about Amendment 3.”
Since you’ve already heard my tirade to Reginald, you can just imagine that I launch into a similar one with Melda, and I add a few complaints about why we should be subsidizing big tobacco. I have found out in the intervening 24 hours that a subsidary of R.J. Reynolds has been funding this campaign.
“So that’s your reason, then?” she replies. Where have I heard this line before, I’m thinking.
She’s for Amendment 3, and I’m trying to understand. I ask her, “Are you being paid for this work?”
“No,” she replies. “It’s for education, for the schools.”
I’m thinking either she didn’t follow my distinction between public and private schools in a democracy, or she doesn’t care about that, or she thinks exactly this, that it’s a good way to raise money for education, end of story, no analysis required.
I thank her for her work, and we say goodbye.
I’ve been thinking about these two encounters a lot—ideas, topics just swirling around in my mind. How my clearcut separation of public and private in the interest of preserving freedom for all seems to not even have occurred to some people. How often the church promotes the idea that it is unfair that the government supports public education but not private education. How often people of faith agree with this idea. How little aware some people seem to be of white privilege, denying even, and how they place their faith in old fashioned “good child” behavior of minding your own business and not making waves. How the haves consistently employ the have nots in service of increasing income disparity. How they do it shamelessly, without guilt, and certainly without paying any homage to the Christ that so many people think is tomorrow coming in glory to wipe away this veil of sin.
But also these ideas. How nothing justifies my choices or anyone’s choices. What a fragile and misunderstood thing is this marvelous achievement of democracy. How democracy is not guaranteed. How education is not guaranteed. How my pathetic, futile attempt to preserve democracy and education is just something I do. How I do it from love, but also how Reginald and Melda do it from love.
How we can’t forget love. How we can love. Yes, we can.