Christine M. Flowers: Time for change that's long overdue

Posted: August 31, 2012

AS FAR AS epiphanies go, it wasn't as dramatic as St. Paul getting knocked off of his horse on the road to Damascus, Joan of Arc hearing voices in France or Joseph Smith getting a visit from Jesus in upstate New York. But even though my kitchen table in Havertown is a fairly humble locale, something momentous did happen Wednesday night. And while I don't plan on leading any armies against the British in the near future, it had a lasting impact on at least one person.

Thirty-three years ago, when I turned 18, I marched myself down to the Media courthouse and registered as a Democrat. It was one of the easiest choices I'd ever made in my young life. Descended from a long line of blue-collar, Philly-born, pro-life Democrats, it seemed natural to continue the tradition. After all, I reasoned, I can ultimately vote for whomever I want in the general election, and primaries interested me much less than surviving my first semester at Bryn Mawr. So I checked this off my list, and moved on.

Years passed, and I remained in the partisan fold, even though I was one of the more enthusiastic Reagan Democrats through law school. I simply closed my eyes or concentrated on other things as the party started going in a direction that at first troubled, then angered me. I clung to the fact that Bob Casey Sr. was still a Democrat, so the moral pangs I felt every time I saw some concession to the pro-choice movement from a high-profile party member were easier to ignore. Plus, there weren't that many post-Reagan Republicans who inspired me enough to march back down to Media courthouse.

Then I started practicing immigration law, and briefly fell for the liberal notion that Democrats cared more about the welfare of my clients than the GOP. I ignored the fact that one of the most draconian pieces of anti-immigrant legislation was signed by Bill Clinton, and that some of the most vocal advocates for immigrants came from the "evil others," including then-Republican Arlen Specter and John McCain. I viewed the Republicans as a bit too concerned with closing the border as opposed to opening their minds. Seventeen years of practicing in this field have shown me that I was wrong, and that there are closed minds on both sides of the aisle.

But still, I avoided that trip to Media, more out of apathy than anything else.

And then I watched the convention on Wednesday night. First there was Condoleezza Rice, one of my heroines, a profoundly moving and transcendent political figure. Dr. Rice has accomplished more than virtually any other women currently in politics, save perhaps for the woman who replaced her at State, Hillary Clinton. But she did it without the assistance of a powerful husband and a popular name, reminding us that "Americans have known that one's status of birth is not a permanent condition. Americans have believed that you might not be able to control your circumstances, but you can control your response to your circumstances."

To see this proud African-American woman stand in front of what some have called the lily-white crowds and talk to them about our obligation to the persecuted in the world was an eye-opener. To connect her childhood in the segregated South, where little girls were incinerated in church pews, to the carnage in Syria and other places out of our view, but not out of our moral vision, was a sad reminder of how this administration has cheapened the currency of our reputation for human-rights advocacy. To hear her remind us that we are truly exceptional and that our greatness derives from certain ideas, some that we have lately ignored, was humbling.

Then came Susanna Martinez, the governor of New Mexico. Here was another proud minority woman, a Latina, who talked about her parents who, with very little money or outside assistance, built their own small business and taught her the importance of independence. She described how, growing up in a small border town, she understood what it meant to believe in the American dream, reminding us that not all Latinos are tied to the idea that the government has to "build it for you." As she said, "It is success, and success is the American dream, and that success is not something to be ashamed of, or to demonize."

The night before, Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina made the same sort of comments about her own immigrant Indian family.

Strong women. Minority women. Conservative women. Even before Paul Ryan took the stage, I was convinced.

Next week, I'm marching myself down to Media. As Sam Cook would say, a change gonna come.


Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. Email: cflowers1961@gmail.com. Blog: philly.com/flowers.

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