My generation was shaped by the fear of 9/11, the shock of Virginia Tech, the tears of Sandy Hook and the pulse of the Congressional baseball practice. We’ve lived through domestic tragedy, and in constant political partisanship.
Every generation experiences crises, and those events shape their views of the world. For me and my generation, one of our first memories was the 9/11 attacks. I remember going to my kindergarten class that day, an hour drive from the Twin Towers. I remember going home from school early, and watching the news coverage with my mom and older sister. I don’t remember a world before a terror attack on the continental United States. After 9/11, Americans stood together to help first responders, to help rebuild New York City, then to help ensure a safer world for future generations.
Unfortunately, that lesson of togetherness didn’t reach far past the next election cycle. And just like my generation grew up under a cloud of fear and terrorism, we also grew up with a deep partisan divide. While our parents and grandparents remember Democrats and Republicans actually working together on occasion, and recall political scandals like Watergate, Iran Contra and President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, those memories can jade people into thinking that issues today are just a part of a political pendulum. As a younger generation coming of age and participating in the political process, it’s our turn to right the partisan cycle.
Growing up, Republicans and Democrats weren’t presented to me as two different political parties. Rather, they were different types of Americans. And that imagery continues as we move on to college campuses. At my university, college Democrats are known for protesting and supporting Planned Parenthood, and Republicans are known for creating graveyards of crosses for aborted fetuses. Yes, there are clear policy differences between the two parties. But if we don’t start to focus on the similarities, another generation will be raised thinking that “others” are so different from them that they’re barely people. We can start bridging this gap by focusing on the American values and commonalities that should unite us, like kindness toward our neighbors, and the right to disagree respectfully.
This week, our similarities have rightfully been on display. When someone is shot, it doesn’t matter if they voted “D” or “R.” It matters that, in the case of the Congressional baseball game practice, partisanship has morphed from vocal protest, to social media to bloodshed. Unfortunately, my generation has only known a world where hatred for differing opinions has been normalized. If we don’t break this cycle, another generation will grow up with the same divides that we did.
Let’s remember that we are all more than just our political beliefs. We can all look at the same flag and think that it stands for different things: To some, the American flag represents a melting pot. To others, it represents the right to purchase a gun. We don’t always have to agree with one another. But we need to always respect one another.
Melissa Holzberg is an intern with Newsday Opinion.