I was a teenager when I first felt the grip of big government.
Growing up in the early 2000s I was one of six kids, and we didn’t have much money.
What we lacked in the bank we made up for with the exchange of ideas. My father is a land surveyor and engineer and always took pride in working for himself. He instilled in me the value of free enterprise.
Even if we didn’t have a dime we could still dream.
Holidays were filled with political discussion. Every turkey dinner came with a cornucopia of debates. Disagreements were tense at times but I came away from it loving to listen and learn. I hoped one day knowledge could unstick from me the label I carried on my back — poor white trash.
As a 32-year-old woman today I know I fastened that burden to my own back when I allowed others to influence my view of myself. I let myself be tricked into thinking I was no one from nowhere — just a girl from an Upstate New York town that by my time had become a forgotten corner of America’s industrial wasteland.
Years of disappointment and broken dreams of childhood had almost solidified those three words to my being. Poor. White. Trash.
But it wasn’t true. This stigma was a prison from which I knew — even then — I had the power to break free. I studied philosophy, history, culture, music, languages and literature. The more I learned, the more I believed I could create my own future regardless of my family’s finances. The library was a sanctuary for me. Yes, I grew up poor in money, but rich in spirit.
I will never forget reading a biography of John D. Rockefeller, the self-made oil magnate and philanthropist. His family moved around when he was a boy but I was surprised to learn during his youth he had lived in Owego, a small Upstate New York town neighboring mine.
His father was a con artist who sold “elixirs.” Nicknamed “Devil Bill,” his dad was known for scheming, leaving his family for extended periods of time, and eventually bigamy. In his youth, John D. Rockefeller had to do what he could to earn money to help support his family, including selling candy.
My friends and I were browsing the vending machine at school before a soccer practice one day but we weren’t feeling the selections. The snacks were lacking, but the demand wasn’t. That night I asked my mom to take me to a warehouse club store and float me a loan to make some bulk purchases. I stocked up on the candy that wasn’t in the vending machine and the next day I offered them for sale. It worked. My classmates asked for more selection and my inventory grew. I expanded into all types of snacks and this went on for a long time. It was going so well I even brought my friends and students in other grades on as “distributors” who were happy to work with me because I gave them a percentage of what they sold.
I don’t remember how long it went on but with this business I was able to buy clothes and school supplies. I could even save some money for my own computer for college.
Sometimes groups at school would sell candy as a fundraiser. During these times I would stop selling out of respect. I saw it as responsible capitalism.
Obviously I wasn’t a kid who got into a whole lot of trouble. I didn’t have the time. So I was surprised when I was called to the vice principal’s office.
My candy business was apparently violating a litany of rules, chiefly competing with the school-sanctioned vending machines.
I told the vice principal it was simple supply and demand. The vending machines not only carried a less desirable selection but also imposed higher markups than I.
Regardless, I was ordered to shut it down or face the consequences. I sold a few more items and got detention. Then I just gave up and got a job at a drug store.
Maybe I was violating rules and laws but I didn’t think about things like that yet. I was a kid. This was capitalism and even though I was poor, that was my salvation. Maybe in capitalism some suffer more than others, but in socialism everyone suffers equally except a few at the top.
Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co. was broken up after a court ruled it had violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The irony in my case was that the school or “government” protected the monopoly — the vending machines.
This experience solidified my ideals and need for freedom. It was better to experience want and be able to dream for more than to be given a little by the government and robbed of hope.
My interest in politics grew. I did work on Republican campaigns as a teen and through college. I had lofty ideals that it was all about preserving our country’s founding principles but I became disillusioned with party politics. I joined the student newspaper in college and would later become its editor in chief. I was proud to lead the newspaper, which operated on ad revenue and accepted zero outside funding. We were technically independent of the student association and the university. Our paper drew the ire of those in power many times.
I graduated in 2008 with an economic crisis around the corner. The newspaper job market was already dismal. Staff numbers at publications big and small were slashed. Starting salaries were so bad it seemed like you needed to be from a wealthy family to afford working in journalism. Eight years of Obama ensued.
As a millennial, it hasn’t been an easy financial journey. Many of us are saddled with student loans that equal mortgage payments. The cost of goods rising and the stagnant salaries have made it difficult for me and many of my peers to reach major milestones like buying homes.
A national opinion poll released last year counting 16,000 registered voters ranging from age 18 to 34 showed millennial support for Democrats waning.
According to the Reuters/Ipsos poll results these voters’ support for Democrats over Republicans for Congress fell by approximately 9 points over two years down to 46 percent.
I think millennials are less tied to party strings than previous generations. We’re a generation that asks “why?” We don’t blindly accept establishment and arbitrary rules. That’s why millennials have been blamed for everything from the demise of chain restaurants to plummeting mass market beer sales in favor of local craft brews.
According to a paper published in 2016 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Millennials born between 1980 and 1994 were more likely to identify as politically conservative than previous generations were when they were young. The lead author of the paper, Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, has said that high school seniors are more likely to identify as conservatives compared to a decade ago.
I’ve talked to some of my friends who are millennials about how and when they opened their minds to these values. Some of them have cited a frustration with political correctness. For some, conservativism feels like an edgy new counter culture. It feels similar to the rebellious spirit that fueled the beat generation.
Perhaps by trying to snuff out these ideals, the powers that be are only strengthening them.
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