Red State Redemption: Homebound

[Today’s post is written from a writing prompt suggested by Lindsay and Sarah of A Queer Calling. You, too, can help guide the content of this blog space during the month of December by sending me suggestions for topics via FB, Twitter, and Tumblr.]

I’ve been back in South Dakota for a little over a year now. Around this time last year, my mom was at the beginning of her illness, and I made the decision to stop looking for jobs outside of the Midwest and to remain in Sioux Falls for the time being. One year, one signed apartment lease, and one part time job later, I’ve settled in, developing new friendships and new relationships and getting to know my hometown all over again.

But that doesn’t stop me from being frustrated by the fact that I live in a place where I will probably not see my beliefs reflected in the legislation. In fact, I’m more likely to be legislated against, as a bisexual feminist woman, than I am to have my views heard by the legislature. I knew, going in on Tuesday, November 4th, that most of the candidates I voted for would lose. It is common knowledge, in this newly Tea-Partified state, that anyone with a “D” next to their name on the ballot faces an uphill battle against not only Republicans but against their own party’s malaise.

Even as the South Dakotan cases challenging the ban on same-sex marriage in the state march forward, I still feel an inexorable pain when I think about how far my state has to go. I’m still afraid to be open about my queerness, knowing that, at best, I’ll get an “oh, you are? Okay” from the people I tell and silent looks of judgment as people reorganize their perception of me. Living in this community means a constant awareness of who I am in relationship to others, instead of a calm assertion of who I am and a feeling of safety about that truth.

What’s more is that I know my chances at real life activism are slim. Maps of Ferguson protests online showed a large blank space in the Dakotas, with nothing happening nearby. Luckily, this is changing, slowly but surely – tonight, in fact, there’s a meeting at the local library to discuss what we can do in local action to express solidarity with the protests prompted by the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice (if you’re in Sioux Falls, it’s at the downtown library on Dakota Ave in the main conference room at 6PM).

Even as I speak, my reality is changing. South Dakota has a growing contingent of more liberal young people who take an approach of nuance and openness into their politics. And being from this state, we know more about how to approach change in this area than our fellows on the East Coast who try to pour money into our politics and create campaigns based around their “outsider” politics.

I wrote about this in early 2014 for Bitch magazine, but the article isn’t online (it’s “Meeting in the Middle: Dispatches from the Badlands,” in the Spring 2014 issue). South Dakota, being a small state in terms of population and an aggressively polite and friendly one has developed a unique discourse around political talk. Extremes exist, naturally, but those who take an extreme stance have to contend with their neighbors and friends. We know each other, and we know how laws are affecting each other.

Recently, South Dakota had a ballot measure to increase the state’s minimum wage and to tie it to inflation. In a remarkably progressive move, South Dakota voted for this measure. Coastal political analysis aside, I believe a major influencing factor in this vote is that everyone in South Dakota likely knows someone who works a minimum wage job. I, for one, have several friends who are baristas who work at minimum wage plus tips. We all know someone who tried to pay for college textbooks off minimum wage work or who is struggling to make rent on a minimum wage job.

The young people who are politically active in South Dakota are also connected, and we can see our friends in the votes we make. When I think about gun control, I think about the joy on my dad’s face at bringing home a deer from the hunt this last weekend and his excitement about getting a new sight for his rifle.

This doesn’t make South Dakota some utopia of political discussion – we still have plenty of fights and I did spend a good part of Thanksgiving hiding in a back room to avoid a discussion about “Obamacare.” We still have our problems and our weaknesses. But things are getting better, in a slow, spinning gyre kind of way. For every two steps forward we take, there’s one step back. But we have our gains and our movements, and we will continue talking and debating and pushing. After all, on a simple level, that’s what activism is.