Shamed at a Bonfire

My Dearest Friends,

Until letters come in (and I so very much hope they do), I’ll write to you.

This collective group of people with whom I share the same air.

Who is Democracy?

I sit here behind the wall of my computer, an enigma.

I didn’t give myself this name out of some kind of delusion of grandeur.

I don’t pretend to be democracy or to be the answer for democracy.

When you write to “Dear Democracy,” you’re writing to a person, yes. But you’re also writing to an idea. A vision of democracy that is radically empathetic, open, and willing to listen.

I can’t promise solutions. But I can promise my ears and my eyes, and my finger tips clacking away at my keyboard in response. I can also promise some tough love, if you’re willing to have it. And I assume if you write to me, you are. I believe you are strong and are ready to hear it.

I want to tell you a story, my dearest friends.

When I was around 11 or 12, I was a politically active kid. I had some pretty strong beliefs, but wasn’t sure why I had them. In my experience, pre-teens aren’t the most mindful bunch.

But there my beliefs were, and I enjoyed the experience of trying out a developing identity.

I was sitting at a bonfire one night with my older sibling and a group of their friends. They were talking about politics. I wanted to seem cool.

I perked up and said, “Candidate X is great, except for their position on Y.”

Don’t worry, sweet peas. I’m not going to conceal my political inclinations from you forever. I think it’s important to show people who think differently from you that you can still empathize, so I want people to know. But for now, I want to hold the demons of partisan lenses at bay to encourage people of all perspectives to write in.

Anyway, back to this bonfire.

One of my older sibling’s friends reacted immediately to what I had said. It was not the right crowd to make this kind of a statement, but I was too young to understand that.

“Shame on you,” they said, coming close to my face. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I sat quietly for the rest of the evening, my face burning with embarrassment and shame. No one really talked to me after that, either.

I’ll never forget that, moment. It was a small moment, in the grand perspective of my life. But a defining one. The first time I had been shamed for my perspectives on politics. Nothing about that moment made me want to change my mind. If anything, I felt more firmly rooted in my beliefs, yet at the same time a sickening feeling that I was somehow inherently a bad person.

I felt disconnected from this person.

Disconnected from my sibling.


And I tell you this story, my darlings, because I know you have stories like this, too.

For years, I felt shame for that moment. As if it had become a part of who I am. I wish someone had told me at the time that moments, thoughts, feelings, and ideas never define who we are. We may not always have the best thoughts, or the best beliefs, but in their wrongness it does not make us, as human beings, wrong.

Lest you worry I am all kumbaya and wanting to hold hands in a field of flowers and sing songs, let me put your fears at ease (though I do love flowers and singing).

This business of connecting over politics is messy. This business of connecting in life is messy.

Sometimes it is dangerous. Sometimes it is threatening. Sometimes it is truly terrifying

About that I am not naive. About that I have no illusions.

People are far more willing to hurt others that are different from themselves than they are to listen–now more than ever–and I see this across the spectrum of political and ideological inclinations.

There are those of you who will write to me with whom I will have fundamental disagreements. But it’s not my job to change your mind. That is up to you, and to me you hold no obligation of doing so. It’s not what I’m here for.

I’m here to provide you with radical empathy. To find points of connection between us, to listen, and to give you advice for how to wade through the murky waters of disagreement. And yes, to give you tough love from time to time.

Finally, I want to close by saying why I start these general letters with “My dearest friends.”

I don’t know you. I likely never will.

“My dearest friend” is the salutation used by John and Abigail Adams in their correspondence to one another during the time of the American Revolution and in the years that followed. They considered one another their closest confidents and advisors. Though she lived in a time where women were considered less than equal citizens, Abigail provided John with personal and professional counsel his whole life. She wasn’t technically his vice president or a member of his cabinet, but in so many ways, she was. John saw her on the same level as himself. Even above himself.

I’ve enough hubris to think I can offer you advice, dear friends. But I need you, too. I need to know you’re out there and thinking about these things, and wondering how the hell we can find a way to connect with each other.

So I call you my friends, because as much counsel as I give, your words give me just as much in return.

And I call you my dearest, because you are. You’re the people I share this world with.

Until I hear from you,





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