By Jedediah Bila
I recently had a conversation with someone in publishing. I was discussing how I hope that an unconventional piece I’ve written will resonate with people of different political persuasions.
“Don’t even bother thinking like that,” he said. “The truth is that it’s only conservatives who pay attention to conservatives. Same for liberals. You’re really just preaching to the choir.”
I reject that idea. And I think it’s absolutely imperative that we all do.
I’ve been a conservative for as long as I can remember. In fact, a friend of the family recently told me that I used to lecture her on spending wisely at the supermarket when I was small enough to fit in the front compartment of a shopping cart. Mom often reminds me of how I used to snatch my dad’s pay stubs when I was in grammar school, highlight the tax deductions, and calculate all the money we’d have if the government would – as I so eloquently put it back then – “stop stealing mommy and daddy’s money.”
Although I’ve always been a conservative, I certainly haven’t been surrounded by conservatives throughout the years.
As you may know, I’m a native New Yorker. Although I was raised in Staten Island – the conservative New York City borough, so to speak – I spent quite a bit of time during middle school and high school in Brooklyn, as well as most Saturdays in Manhattan with my mom. I attended college at a liberal school in Staten Island and spent many evenings with friends in Manhattan, catching an occasional film at The Paris Theatre and sampling coffee shops and eateries in the East Village. I went on to earn an M.A. from Columbia University while living on the Upper West Side and – with the exception of a few years between grad school and now – have called Manhattan home ever since.
Ninety percent of the people I’ve encountered in New York City have been liberal. But, guess what? I’ve never stopped speaking my mind. The response to my ideas isn’t always friendly – to put it mildly – but every now and then, someone stops and thinks about what I’ve said. Every now and then, someone goes home, does a little research, and comes back with some questions. And every now and then, I notice a look in the eyes of the person I’m talking to, a look that says, “I hadn’t thought of that.”
The notion that “it’s only conservatives who pay attention to conservatives” is nonsense. I’ll grant you that rigid, far-left ideologues likely won’t pay me much mind. But what about independents? What about those who don’t consider themselves overly political, but care about their freedoms and are concerned for the future of our country? What about the college kids who hear nothing but “progressive” rhetoric in class? Are those kids not worth speaking to? Even if they’ve bought into that rhetoric, can some of them not be reached?
You bet they can be. And they must be.
Growing up in New York City, studying at far-left Columbia University, and working in liberal New York City schools have taught me that engaging those of different world views is possible – and essential. The alternative is to take the easy way out and to preach to the proverbial choir.
It’s too dangerous a world and too important a time to take the easy way out.
Every adult you reach is a potential voter. Every teenager just might take a minute to ponder your words. And the ability you have – just you, all by yourself – to effectuate positive change in this country is immense. All simply by speaking your mind, even to those you’ve been told it’s a waste of time to talk to.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a New York City conservative, it’s that you have the ability to reach those you never would have dreamt you could.
So, speak up. Be proud of what you believe in. Wear your patriotism on your sleeve. Talk about liberty and our Constitution and American exceptionalism.
You just might be shocked by who’s listening.