I was bitten by the political bug when I was 5-years-old. In 1996, I sat in front of the television in my parent's living room. It was election night. Sure, I had places to be, people to see (I had new Pocahontas figurines to play with for upstairs). For some reason, though, I sat on the floor in front of my dad and watched the election results roll in. The only thing I knew about politics at the time was that Bill Clinton was our president, and as a 5-year-old whose days consisted of finger painting and dress up, I honestly couldn't care less about his policies. Which was why, when the election results were announced, I was confused why my dad groaned and walked out of the room. How could he be disappointed that our president won? He was the president for crying out loud and we were supposed to support him 100% right? I grew out of that mentality eventually, but at the time, my curiosity was piqued.
My second brush with politics occurred on September 11, 2001. I was in weekly mass with my classmates when Father Gerard, our priest at the time, announced that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. I only knew the World Trade Centers by the more common name, "The Twin Towers," and to be honest, I wasn't paying attention anyway, so I just went on with my day. It wasn't until I got home that I really understood the tragedy. As my mother unfurled the Atchison Daily Globe, and I saw the image of burning buildings on the front page, I realized what had occurred. An act of senseless violence scarred the nation's heart and changed my perception of the nation, politics, and the world, forever. Of course my 10-year-old self didn't completely understand the ramifications of the attack. Over time, however, I did. In the week following the attack, the Globe, instead of printing their normal ads on the back page, printed an American flag. On the opposite side of the flag was the following quote:
"These acts have shattered steel, but they will not dent the steel of American resolve." - George W. Bush.
For the first time in my life, I felt patriotism. No, not fireworks on the 4th patriotism; real patriotism. I wanted to learn more about what made our nation tick and why a tragic event like 9/11 even occurred. (And I still wasn't entirely sure why my dad was so angry about Clinton's re-election.) If you know me well enough, I can't stand not knowing "why," so I learned. A lot. When most of my classmates got hooked on The OC, and later Laguna Beach, I stayed at home at watched Hannity & Colmes. I read Atlas Shrugged, Michelle Malkin, and Ann Coulter. Yes, I was a geek, a nerd, but that geekdom and love of learning got me where I am today. It's who I am, and I'm proud of it.
I became passionate about politics and making the nation and the lives of those around me better. My heart ached after 9/11 and I began to research and support policies that would hopefully prevent senseless, horrific tragedies in the future. "Peace through strength," became my motto. My passion didn't stop there, however. I learned the values of hard work and entrepreneurship from my family. My father grew up in a large, poor family, but because of personal initiative and hard work, most of his (11) siblings own a small business. Our family is thriving (if you want to read more about my family's story go here). I learned about the free market, about capitalism, and about small government policies that helped my father and my aunts and uncles succeed. In short, I became passionate about small government policies because of my family. I want everyone to achieve success like they did.
When my younger siblings were born, I learned to value life. My younger brother didn't "become" my younger brother when he was born in the Atchison hospital. I knew him as my baby brother long before he was born (read more about the story here.) Over the years, I learned to value life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and it wasn't long before I really started to fight for them.
When I was 15, I took a leap and started participating in speaking tournaments through my high school. And by "leap," I don't mean hop. I mean, "jumping into a dark abyss, not knowing what I'll find below." As a teenager I was shy and scared. It wasn't until late high school when I actually started to speak up in class. Public speaking competitions changed that for me (and I made state every year, by the way). I learned to speak publicly about issues that ignited my passion. All the while, I still made it home in time to catch the news. By the time I was a senior in college, I was known as "that girl who knew waaay too much about politics." But honestly, there are worse labels I could have received.
Then I entered college. Here's where I'll fast forward a bit. If you want to know about my journey as a conservative in college, check out the blog archives on this site. In short, I took on liberal academia, rose the ranks in College Republicans (I was Chair of my campus chapter & Vice Chair of the state chapter) and finally graduated. I haven't quite adjusted to the "real world," but, hey, it takes time. However, I've reached a point where I'm actually looking back (perhaps not that far back) on my college life and asking not only "why" but "how" I got so involved in politics. Sure, anyone can read my resume, but that's not the whole story.
I started thinking about writing this blog a few days ago when Dana Loesch posted a piece titled "On the 'Lady Bro.'" If you haven't read it, do so now. I'll be here when you get back. I was awed at how accurate the label "Lady Bro" described a large segment of young people, including those in politics. As a baby College Republican, I was shocked at how important the "bro" culture was to an individual's success in the organization, or in politics at all for that matter. You want to be taken seriously as a young conservative woman? The overwhelming mentality is that you have to "be one of the guys." Getting drunk at your first CPAC is basically a right of passage. However, it was a right of passage I did not partake in. And yes, you're probably saying "that happens in college, whether you're in politics or not." True, but it's a valuable part of my story. Stay with me here.
*Let me add here that I'm not against drinking socially, even in college. It's the perception that "you must get wasted to fit in" that I fight against. Seriously, we don't want a generation of drunks leading our nation in 10-15 years.*
I was never a "Lady Bro." At the time (we're talking freshman, sophomore year here), however, I didn't think I stood a chance of making it in politics anyway. Sure I could write; sure I was reliable and hard working. However, I didn't ever see myself as "making it." I was still at that point in my life (and still, to some degree, have yet to outgrow) where self-doubt was a large part of my thinking. I was an awkward, sci-fi geek who happened to know a bit about politics. I didn't see myself as a Michele Bachmann, Ann Coulter, or Michelle Malkin. I was told right and left that "conservative women are hotter," but I never thought that concept fit me. I never thought I'd be in the esteemed group off College Republican females who would someday grace the screens of FoxNews or the stage at CPAC. There were times, honestly, where I considered giving up politics because I didn't think I was "pretty enough, thin enough (or whatever the standard of the day was)" to be noticed. I lacked confidence, but I didn't lack a desire to succeed. If, like me, you've faced similar demons, don't let them stop you. The night is darkest just before the dawn. (I knew I needed to fit a Batman reference in here somewhere...)
There's a reason why the Star Wars quote "Do or do not. There is not try," has stuck with me all these years. I wasn't always the most confident young conservative and I didn't spend my weekends "bro-ing" it out with the guys, but I "did things." I went to every College Republicans meeting and when they needed volunteers, I was there. When there was a policy or issue I wanted to fight, I wrote about it. I spoke about it. I busted my ass in college, to say the least. Whether it was an internship or a position in a club, I learned to ask for what I wanted. I lost count of the sleepless nights I spent either writing and researching or worrying about what I could do to make my organization better. I fought both literal and symbolic bullies, both in my personal life and in the political realm. Despite my doubts, despite my shortcomings, I was a fighter. And I succeeded because of it.
I'm writing this article for two reasons. One, it's therapeutic for me. (What can I say? I'm still a bit selfish.) However, I really wanted to write this article because I know there are thousands of young women in the conservative movement right now (and outside of it), who are "stuck" in the same spot I was just a couple years ago. You don't have to put yourself in a box. Sure, we all can agree that the pro-abortion, birth-control-obsessed feminist movement isn't the place for us. Seriously, we have more self-respect than that. However, I know that we're still trying to find our place; find how we, as strong women, and as conservatives, can make a small impact in the world. You don't have to be a "LadyBro," and you don't have to let your own self-doubt stop you from doing what you need to do to succeed. Ghandi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." If you see something at your school, in your city, or in the nation that you want to change, do it. It's simple, but it's not easy. It takes LOTS of hard work and drive to succeed, but it's possible. All of the blood, sweat and tears are worth it. Trust me, I know. If a socially awkward, self-doubting recent college grad can make it, you can too.
A big reason why I love being a conservative is the fact that my like-minded peers and I fight daily for the individual. We talk about policies and philosophies that personify personal responsibility and individuality, but why not exercise this fight it in your own life? "Be yourself" is a cliche, but it's true. You don't have to be a "bro" or drop-dead gorgeous to make an impact. Let your individuality shine, for you know, we all have something unique to add to the fight. All you need is ambition and a dash of talent, and you'll accomplish wonders.