Growing up, you always had to have a “playground pitch” that would reel in the other kids at the park to play with you. If your pitch was weak, then you were left stranded to watch everyone else play freeze tag. Therefore, your playground pitch had to be short, sweet, to the point and on point. Therefore, my playground pitch was the following:
“Patrick Kennedy gave me an ice cream cone for free at summer camp.”
Most kids would respond with a stare and say “Okay, you’re it,” which wasn’t as bad as standing next to the kid who brought his binder full of Yu-Gi-Oh cards to the playground (there’s a time and place for everything). I chose this as my pitch because it was a defining moment in my life that I wanted to share with everyone. That was the moment I met a Kennedy. As a New Englander, meeting a Kennedy is just as important as one’s first born child. So you can imagine my reaction when a Palagi’s ice cream truck pulled up to the curb of the Boys’ Club with Patrick Kennedy, former U.S. Representative for Rhode Island’s 1st congressional district, waving out of the window. This was one of many moments that confirmed that I was a political junkie in the making. My love for politics grew with each social studies class I took, with every heated debate I overheard on a RIPTA bus ride or in line at Dunkin’. Even with each political scandal that broke, I still was fascinated by the art of politics. 14 years has passed since Patrick Kennedy gave me a Strawberry Shortcake ice cream and I’ve realized that the older I got, the more hesitant and cautious I became in regards to speaking up about politics. What made me shut down?
I grew up in Pawtucket where all politics is truly local. Growing up in an old mill town full of hard working blue collar immigrants, grown ups openly discussed politics everywhere I went – they were talking about real issues that affected everyone on a daily basis. Factories were shutting down and companies were outsourcing to other countries. Failed “urban renewal” projects turned vibrant downtown into a ghost town. Since I was the nosey kid who liked to hang around the adult table, I was fascinated not only by the issues brought up, but with how much passion people were talking about the issues. I saw the worry in many faces and realized that people were upset and expressed their concerns with no filter. Politics wasn’t left for the elite to discuss in business suits at the country club; political conversation took place between factory workers, landscapers, and local store owners having an early breakfast at Maria’s Kitchen. My ear would constantly tune into honest, unapologetic critiques of government.
Living in the smallest state of the union, I assumed that all people talk about politics this open and honest. When it was time to apply to college, I decided that I would be a political science and communication studies double major with the goal of becoming the next Jon Stewart after graduation. It wasn’t until a world politics theories class at the University of Rhode Island that I realized, not everyone grew up blue collar, first generation or as blunt as the Pawtucket resident’s at the bus stop by Slater Mill. It was a culture shock to be in a classroom full of mostly white men from Jersey, New York, and Connecticut who wore Yankee caps to class. I was shocked by their quick responses with little context or real life experience attached to their answer. I was easily triggered by their arrogant, selfish, elitist attitude. What made me shut down during my first two years of college was the classist attitude that if you aren’t college educated, then you can’t talk politics. What did this first-generation Cape Verdean girl from Pawtucket know? I felt that my experiences and opinions weren’t “good enough”. This didn’t make any sense to me since some of the best political debaters I knew didn’t have their college degree. I was used to people arguing their point with evidence. I don’t mean evidence as in a theory from Alexis de Tocqueville or John Locke; not a mumbled direct quote from the class notes, but a realistic, genuine, honest viewpoint. Real world experiences. I grew up in a racially diverse community where income was one of the main concerns. We saw our parents, grandparents, and neighbors work over 40 hours a week and it was the norm. Having the ability to attend and complete college and obtain a degree is a privilege that I am grateful for BUT I was raised in a community where honesty is truly the best policy; you don’t need a college degree to have a genuine conversation about the world around us. One’s words are not invalid just because one does not have a college degree. By the time I reached my junior year I realized that I had to speak up. I realized that many of these students didn’t know that people like me existed: children of immigrants who grew up fast because real life was happening around us. There was no time to paint a pretty picture about the realities around us.
Analyzing politics should not be an elite and exclusive practice. Of course, evidence and theory are needed to back up one’s arguments. The theories I learned in college are beneficial to my growth as a political scientist. Everyone should feel encouraged, not discouraged to discuss politics. After four years of college, I’m back home and ready to learn from my neighbors. I’m just hoping my “playground pitch” is still a hit.