Political Ambidexterity

When I was a little girl, I was ambidextrous. My mother advised to me choose a hand. Not knowing which to pick, I asked her what her preference was. She told me that everyone in my family was right handed. My choice to conform to this only confirms that I made the right choice for my life at that time.

I often wonder how my life would be different if I had chosen my left hand instead, or if I were not presented with the mandate of choosing and was able to remain ambidextrous. I actually think it served me well, as using my left brain has prevented me from being too ‘out there’ as to relate to other people and the ‘real’ world entirely. I love that I am at once rational and insanely creative.

So often, we are put in a position of having to choose sides. Election time is once such instance when we are presented with this opportunity to align with something greater than ourselves by veering to the left or to the right.

While we may need to choose in the polling booth, we do not need to pick a side in our daily lives. We can be politically and socially ambidextrous. Being ambidextrous doesn’t mean choosing our left or our right hand; it means consistently using everything that we’ve got. We can still take a stand, but it is one that is in a position to see and appreciate the entire landscape. Political ambidexterity gives us the freedom to explore ideas and re-create the world together.

From Nail Files to Geraldine: The Emergence of my Political Identity

My political identity is rooted in my social and cultural identities, my unique personal beliefs, and my lived experience. This political identity is emerging rather than fixed; over time it has evolved and expanded to encompass my deeper and broader understanding of the world in which I live.

My first political experience was campaigning for Guy Kratzer, who was then running for reappointment to Allentown City Council. My job, as a very young child, was to hand out nail files sporting his name to voters as they entered the polls at Muhlenberg Elementary School. I believe this was 1979, but my memory could be mistaken. I suspect that one of my sisters was a student in Mrs. Kratzer’s social studies class at Trexler Middle School at that time. My second memory is my father running for school board in 1980. In Mrs. Helwig’s kindergarten classroom that same year, I voted for Ronald Regan in a mock election. I didn’t vote for him because I supported his platform, but because brown seemed to be the most presidential color to me at the time (it was a color matching game). For the next few years, my political memory is limited to the occasional whimsical wearing of one of my J.D. for Mayor buttons.

In 1984, I feel that my political identity crystallized with the presidential election and my work to support Geraldine Ferraro for vice president. I was nine years old. In my elementary school class, again at Muhlenberg (apparently the epicenter of my political emergence), we formed teams based on who we would like to support. I chose Mondale/Ferraro because, despite the fact that most of my family is Republican, my parents were solid Democrats. I noticed generalized social and cultural differences between the Mondale/Ferraro group and the Regan/Bush group. This was the first time that I felt like part of a group, that I belonged somewhere in the social sphere. I felt as though I had arrived.

I especially loved supporting a woman for this important political position, which seemed totally natural to me. It never occurred to me that a woman could not do whatever the heck she wanted to do, or that she would be discouraged from doing so by others. While I didn’t appreciate the significance of this historical moment at the time, I am so grateful to have lived through it and to have been a part of it, even if only in a very small way. I cannot imagine who I would be if it were not for Geraldine Ferraro.

By the way, I think the official presidential color should be purple.