By: Rachael DeBrouse
There’s a certain ring to the term “coastal elite.” The type of ring that makes a person want to embrace it and all it entails: intelligence, education, money, seaside holidays with family, waking up to hear the ocean crashing against the seashore. Of course I want to take that term and slap the label on myself like a nametag at a convention of the best and brightest.
Of course I do- even if I was raised in a blue collar family, in homes that never did quite make waterfront status (but, if you looked just right, you could see the James River Bridge peaking between the houses).
Blue collar doesn’t have the same ring to it, but it does have a certain pride that most of the true coastal elite cannot even begin to understand. Democrats, liberals, progressives, we used to understand and embrace that pride as the backbone of American values. Somehow we lost touch with that (probably chasing dreams of sandcastles and speedboats or “debting” ourselves into private universities and doctorate degrees) and in a most unfortunate turn of events, a billionaire snatched it up and turned it into quite the profitable venture for himself.
While embracing that I now own two homes in waterfront neighborhoods (even if not quite waterfront) and applauding myself for finally getting a degree (although not a Masters or Doctorate), as I was feeling secretly (or not so secretly) better than others because of the position my parents have in Virginia politics, I lost where I came from. I do not imagine that I am alone in doing such a thing.
I forgot about my father coming home smelling of metal and dirt, covered in filthy insulation and likely remnants of asbestos from building our nation’s submarines and aircraft carriers. I forgot about my mother waitressing when I was young and then building her slipcover and window treatment business from the ground up, the result of inspiration, talent, and many long nights in our garage when deadlines had to be met. I didn’t remember how they bought an old, falling apart house in Hilton Village that a mostly blind woman owned, and fixed it up themselves, scraping the paint off the exterior, sweat pouring from their foreheads in the sweltering Virginia summer sun. And this they did to give our family a wonderful place to grow up.
I forgot about my father going on strike, willing to put himself on the line for what was right. A man whose union values have been engrained in me from birth.
I overlooked the generations of my family who lived and worked on farms, on cars, building houses, painting, working in all manners and forms with their hands in decidedly un-elite occupations.
And all proud.
I am not the only one who so quickly gave up my roots to embrace what has been painted as a better way of life by people who are so certain as to what the new America should look like. This is an America full of technology, college degrees, museums, arts, and scientific advancements. Don’t get me wrong- these things are wonderful, and, in my opinion, necessary. But too often, while promoting for that particular future America, we have forgotten the proud workers who are grinding, welding, building, and farming, and they see it. They see how what we have viewed as valuable has changed and left them behind. The 2016 presidential elections are, according to many, a brutal testament to the dire effects of doing so.
We must own this. I am going to guess more than a few of us liberals and progressives are in absolute denial that we could possibly look down on others for their differences, that we would be offended at the assumption that we didn’t stand for everyone. However, I think that if we really, truly examined the things we say, our opinions on those we consider less educated, even our opinions on Trump voters (yes, even them), we will realize that this elitism exists within many of us. We must stop looking down on those laborers as we sit in climate controlled buildings, with our office or academic jobs, our degrees, our collegiate gear from universities that we have ACTUALLY attended rather than just rooted for. We need to embrace our roots again, or we will lose all the dreams of America we ever had. We will be handing over votes to more billionaires who will stand for the billionaire class while stating they are for the common man. We will lose gay rights and women’s rights, our Muslim friends will continue to live in fear for their future in this country, our immigrant neighbors will wonder if they are next to be kicked out.
Certainly, this is not entirely something we must answer for, but whatever our role, it is one that we must not deny. If in any way we have disenfranchised voters from our causes because we do not seem troubled about their concerns, we must work to gain them back. We need them as our allies. We need to listen without judgement and without dismissal. As this recent election cycle has shown, they have in many ways more power than we gave them credit for.