Over Spring Break, I hosted my Kentucky Kitchen Table dinner at my parent’s house in Des Moines, Iowa. I invited over family members, as well as friends of family member I did not previously know very well. There were seven people at my Kentucky (or Iowa) Kitchen Table. There was Scarlett, who is nine years old and enjoys making art, learning about animals and playing the piano. I also invited Marlene, who is 84 years old and from Storm Lake, Iowa, a small-town in rural Iowa. She is active in the Presbyterian Church and spent several decades working at a flower-shop, she was one of the first working mothers in her town. She grew up on a farm outside of Storm Lake, in part during the Great Depression. Until 2008, she was a registered Republican. Bill, who was also at the dinner, is a 60-year-old photographer who has lived most of his life in Des Moines, although he also spent several years serving as a military photographer. He has been very active in the Des Moines Democratic Party. Married to Bill is 59-year-old Jennifer, who has also lived in Des Moines most of her life, though she was born in a small-town in Iowa. She has spent time both as a stay at home mom and as a commercial stylist, she is also an enthusiastic artist and equestrian. Janet, who was also at the dinner, is a receptionist who has been involved with a variety of liberal political causes and is a voracious reader. Janet is in her late 40s and married to Tyson, who is a stay at home dad involved with mental health activism. Finally, I invited Julie, who is informed about, but not very involved with politics. She has been a legal secretary for most of her life, as well as a single mom. And of course, my dog Penny was there, though she did not contribute much to the conversation.
My parents (Bill and Jennifer) and I made turkey burgers, a recipe we are known for. Marlene brought brownies, Janet and Tyson brought potato salad, and Julie brought fruit salad. Scarlett brought a piece of art she made in school to decorate the fridge. While eating our dinner, we had a very good conversation about citizenship that revolved around discussing the tenor of the 2016 Presidential Election. I began by asking everyone what citizenship meant to them, the most insightful answers came from the oldest and the youngest at the table. Marlene said that citizenship meant not taking for granted the rights and privileges we have as Americans. She explained that she is neighbors with several immigrant families and has assisted Sudanese refugees with her church, and they have all made huge sacrifices to be American citizens. This is a sentiment that I am going to let motivate my social issue project. I am so grateful to be an American citizen and I want to pay some of that privilege forward by helping others, Syrian refugees, gain that same status.
Scarlett, at nine years old, also gave an insightful definition of citizenship. She said that citizenship meant caring about others. Her answer immediately made me think about the week we spent reading The Empathy Exams and discussing the role empathy plays in citizenship. Even at such a young age, she realized that it is not simply important, but required, to care about others in order to be a good citizen. If we cared about the needs and concerns of others when we went in to the voting booth, went to the grocery store or even when we paid our taxes, we would much likely be better citizens.
After discussing citizenship, we talked about how the gratitude and compassion Marlene and Scarlett mentioned is so absent from the 2016 Presidential election. Even people in the group who have not been involved in politics before, were well informed about this election and had a strong opinion. Almost everyone, even those who have voted Republican all of their lives, said they would vote for the Democratic candidate in November. The conversation reassured me that, despite the nasty rhetoric at the top, most Americans want politics to be civil and compassionate.