The Exponent Gets Political: How a Mormon Girl Living in Provo Became a Democrat

Maybe I was destined to be a Democrat. After I was born, while I was lying in an incubator, a family friend whispered in my ear “Vote Democrat.” My mother votes Democrat, and my dad converted after moving to Utah. So I grew up in a Democrat household, making me a minority in my Provo Utah community. While I credit my parents with some of my political leanings, I became a Mormon Democrat on my own. This is how it all started.

In 2003, as a fifteen year old, I read All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel set during World War I. The protagonist is a German soldier stationed on the western front, facing off with the Russians. He is young, and believes there is glory in going to war. But as he sees friends and enemies die, he starts to ask “who benefits from this war,” and cannot find an answer. He realizes, “A word of command has made these silent figures our enemies; a word of command might transform them into our friends. At some table a document is signed by some persons whom none of us knows and then for years together, that very crime on which formerly the world’s condemnation and severest penalty fall, becomes our highest aim.” He and his friends become expendable; their individual lives and deaths don’t matte
in the grand scheme of the war. This becomes starkly evident at the end of the book:

“He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.”

That book hit me incredibly hard. The horror of war, the senseless loss of life, the destruction of families, health and happiness was beyond my ability to accept. I shared the sentiment “It must all be lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this steam of blood being poured out, these torture-chambers in their hundreds of thousands.” With all the advances human beings have made, we still can’t figure out how to settle an argument without killing each other.

While reading All Quiet on the Western Front and anti-war poetry on my own, we were also studying anti-war literature in my German class, and the Book of Mormon in seminary, which is full of the horrors of war. We had several lessons about when it is permissible to declare war while we were studying Alma 43-54. I still have the points diagramed in my scriptures:

1. We should not go to war unless commanded to.
2. We must lift the standard of peace before attacking.
3. The motives of declaring war should be pure; like the defense of families and faith.
4. If war is declared unjustly, God will not fight our battles.”

I took these rules to heart, believing that war should be a last resort, should generally be defensive, and should be about more then revenge or greed. I was turning into a pacifist, surrounded by anti-war material. And then the United States invaded Iraq.

I have a clear memory of the April 2003 General Conference being interrupted by an announcement that the United States had invaded Iraq. I went upstairs and sobbed on the couch for hours, a pattern I followed for the next few years. I was enraged that President Bush and the Republican party had declared war, had sent in soldiers to kill and to die. I felt that the standard of peace had not been raised, that the motivations were weak (which became more evident as the claims about weapons of mass destruction and terrorism fell apart.) I felt that it was an unjust war, started and supported by the Republicans and opposed by the Democrats. So I became a hard-core Democrat and haven’t found a good reason to look back.

Being a Democrat in Provo was hard; most of the kids I went to school with were Republican, and many were very abusive to the few Democrats who dared to be vocal. They attacked our righteousness, patriotism and worthiness. I even had a seminary teacher mock me and my politics in front of my class. My senior year, about ten of us formed DAFT, the Democratic Association for T___ High School, partly so we would have a collective bull’s-eye on our backs rather then individual ones. It was hard to have friends and teachers ridicule my politics, but it taught me how to defend my choices in relation to Mormonism, a skill I needed at BYU, which was also not very welcoming of my politics.

In learning to defend my politics, my reasons for being a Democrat expanded, and those expansions were largely based on Mormonism. I vote Democrat because Christ taught that we should take care of the poor and needy, and the Book of Mormon teaches,

“And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need … Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent…” (Mosiah 4:16-18)

Democrats tend to spend more money on welfare programs, health care access and public education, while Republicans tend to cut things like welfare, Planned Parenthood and public school funding., and I struggle to see how cutting welfare is in line with the command to take care of the poor.

We are also taught that “God is no respecter of persons.” (Act 10:34.) I interpret that to mean men and women are equally intelligent and capable.
So capable adult women don’t need anyone telling them what to do with their bodies or lives because they can decide for themselves. I also interpret that scripture to mean that the rich do not deserve more power or rights then the poor. So policies that favor the rich over the poor do not, in my mind, fall in line with Christ’s teachings.

Finally, we are taught from Primary on that we are all children of Heavenly Parents. This did not square with the Republicians in my community and in the media calling for nuclear bombings of the Middle East, insulting Muslims, homosexuals and women, and denying health care, food and shelter to people who have not “earned” it.

The Democratic party is far from perfect, but I feel perfectly comfortable standing with James E. Faust and saying “I’m a Mormon and I vote Democrat.”

DefyGravity

I'm a graduate from BYU in theatre education and history teaching, currently living in Utah and working at a library company. I've been married since 2009. I love to read essentially anything. I'm an earring fanatic, Anglophile and Shakespeare lover.

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15 Responses

  1. EmiG says:

    I was raised in a Republican household, but have been slowly drifting left ever since high school largely for the same reasons you articulated. While I now describe myself as an independent, I’m also glad to point to James E. Faust and Marlin K. Jensen as evidence that being a Democrat is not antithetical to being a “good” Mormon.

  2. LK says:

    “I was enraged that President Bush and the Republican party had declared war, had sent in soldiers to kill and to die.”

    58% of senate democrats and 39% of house democrats also voted for the war in Iraq.

  3. Bonnie Flint says:

    I “came out” as a Democrat in a big way this year, when I decided to run for the Utah House of Representatives. While I’ve been met with some mean- spirited behavior, the support of friends, family, neighbors, and strangers has been overwhelming.

    Most people are thrilled that they have a choice, which hasn’t been the case for many years. Davis County, where I live, hasn’t elected a Democrat in about 50 years. But I believe most people truly want to elect the best person–regardless of their party affiliation, and that gives me hope for the future.

    My impression is that there are many more Democrats in Utah than any if us would guess. Either they choose not to show it, or they, themselves, are not aware that their ideas best align to the Democratic party.

    Your post is a great synopsis of what so many of us Democrats believe in.

    • DefyGravity says:

      That is awesome! Good for you! I agree many people would love to have a choice, and I”m always surprised at the Democrats I run into in the state. I think people are so afraid to admit to it for fear of being ridiculed that we pass each other without knowing it.

  4. Jules says:

    The moment I became a Democrat? Driving home from my boyfriend’s house in 1991, the night the U.S. invaded Iraq the first time. In the days that followed, I watched our tiny Air Force Base mobilize and deploy, and even though I figured House and Senate Dems also voted to invade, as a general rule they didn’t seem *as* keen on war for the sake of war. Eight months later, I was at BYU, and interestingly enough, being at BYU reinforced my liberal leanings.

    Loved to read your story! Thanks for sharing it.

  5. Maryly says:

    You go, girl! My liberal leanings were reinforced at BYU during the Viet Nam war. I was a convert, a product of 12 years of West Coast Catholic schools and liberation theology, and lucky enough to get a couple of professors in the Honors Program who let me – encouraged me! – to think. I could never belong to the party that attacks women (see: Akin) and big Bird.

  6. Caroline says:

    I sympathize with your anti-war feelings. One reason I really really didn’t want McCain to win in 2008 is because I thought that he would be more likely to take us into a war with Iran than Obama. He came off as pretty hawkish to me. I don’t know if Romney would be as hawkish as McCain — I don’t think so. But I’m still voting for Obama. My two main issues are these: who is most likely to keep us out of war, and who is most likely to protect the environment? Obama wins on both those.

  7. Jim H says:

    While I don’t consider myself a Democrat, I have found myself defending Democrat ideals in my ward meetings a lot over the past few years. When I hear comments in church insulting people on food stamps and saying poor people are lazy, I realize that the church’s lurch to the right in the past few decades follows the pride cycle from the Book of Mormon. We will have to repent of it or suffer some harsh consequences, just like the Nephites did.

  8. Risa says:

    I don’t know how you could have a clear memory of April 2003 General Conference being interrupted to announce that the U.S. invaded Iraq when the U.S. invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003. It was a Wednesday and not the weekend. I was in Times Square caught in the middle of a huge war protest and my husband was scared about me flying home to Utah. Sorry, but this inaccuracy took me right out of your story.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Iraqi_Freedom

    • DefyGravity says:

      I remember General conference being interrupted for an announcement about the war in the Middle East. It might not have been the announcement I mentioned, but I remember there was something that interrupted General Conference.

      • Risa says:

        It could have been about the Battle of Baghdad. I don’t remember Conference being interrupted, but back then I was working a lot of weekends and probably just read the talks later in The Ensign.

        I was very against the war, knowing that we were being lied to. I was a Democrat until the ones in Congress voted for the war and then later refused to impeach Bush for war crimes (after that I switched to unaffiliated so that I wouldn’t be beholden to any party). So I get where you’re coming from. It was a traumatic time in my life as I was being called unpatriotic at every turn and told to leave the country for being anti-war (especially under gross lies). And then the Dixie Chicks debacle happened and it all seemed like a surreal nightmare. I’m a pacifist to the core and will never support war. Other than that small thing, I really enjoyed your essay.

  9. Teresa says:

    Great thoughts and a good reminder that the church does not support one political party. While I am not a democrat, I have become very disillusioned with the wars we’ve been getting into and I would love to get out of them and stop spending so much money on them. War is horrific and I would never want anyone to have to go through it unless it is absolutely necessary, and I do wonder how necessary it has been these past years. 🙁

    DAFT was a wonderful organization. I am proud of you and the others in it for the service oriented things you did. In general, I admire you for the service you do and your concern for others.

    I’m not about to become a democrat, but I feel a stronger need to assist the poor and consider those around me. Sometimes it’s frustrating and disheartening to look at the leaders of our country through the years using so much power to do things that are wrong in the name of doing right (in my opinion, this happens on both sides). It makes me just want to give up on trying to make a difference. But then I think of people in the community doing good for others despite all of it, and I realize that is a real way I can make a difference.

    I wish we wouldn’t look at each other’s political titles as much as we do and make judgements about each other. But we do. Some are so scared of what is different that they go as far as to ridicule and belittle their fellow classmates (or students) in school and other places, feeling like they are casting out some sort of non rightness, when in reality, Christ asked us to love everyone. Provo certainly isn’t perfect. But at the same time, I know a lot of amazing people in Provo who love and serve as much as they can. And they vote on both sides.

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