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The breakdown of a political relationship

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I just got home from phone-banking at the DFL's Detroit Lakes headquarters. Prior to that, I was out with a couple friends doing some liberally-minded door-knocking in the rain, which was quite a good time beyond accidentally and embarrassingly getting into the wrong car between stops (yeah...my ever-compassionate pals aren't going to let that one off easily, anyway, so I may as well have it printed in the news, right?).

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Yesterday, the Obama stickers and button I ordered online came in the mail, and every time I get a text message, which happens about as many times an hour as the potential president of the United States verbalizes the syllable "change" per speech, Cocoa Tea's "Barack Obama" reggae tune grooves rhythmically out of my cell phone.

But, truly I tell you, I am an anarchist at heart.

Phone-banking is a controversial art. As anyone who has ever encountered a telemarketer knows, it is sometimes dreadfully difficult to resist the urge to berate, denounce, mock or simply hang up on the stranger interrupting dinner, a heartfelt conversation or your favorite television commercial.

In less than an hour, I was hung up on a minimum of five times. One man, when I asked for his wife, inquired contemptuously as to whether her votes were private business; when I responded with a yes, of course, he uttered something markedly derisive and hung up.

Another dial put me on the line with a woman, who, when asked which candidates she supports for the upcoming elections -- "As you know, this is a very important election year in Minnesota," as the phone-banking scripts at the DLF gladly remind -- went on a tirade about negativity in political campaigning corrupting the politeness we teach our children (she said my children, which I can only assume means that either I have an impressively mature-sounding telephone voice, or that my 17-year-old friends sounded like whining children in the background as they made their own calls) before recommending in less than meek terms that I should tell whoever I'm working for that they are all rude and should stop calling to bother people about their votes since they have to elect someone anyway.

I gave her my apologies and relayed to her my hopes that her evening improved from there on out, to which she responded that her stress levels were no longer neutral.

The first occasion during which I went a-phone-bankin' for the DL donkeys, I had some bafflingly singular chats. When I asked one of the ladies on my list if she would mind answering a few questions about the elections, she paused.

Pause.

"Who's coming over for coffee?"

I repeated my previous entreaty about political candidates.

Pause.

"Well, of course you can come over!"

Yes, being politically-involved has its perks: I got me a coffee date! Whoo!

Shortly afterwards, I had a 15-minute conversation with a heavily-accented woman who told me she and her husband tell all their friends to vote for Obama, and then asked me to tell him (Obama, I mean, as she could probably tell her husband herself) that the border security situation was immeasurably crucial. Although I haven't gotten a hold of Barack yet, her enthusiasm was infectious, and I honestly enjoyed our conversation.

If you feel your political leanings are private, you're right. If you're sick of having to wash your face, hair and clothes after viewing political ads on TV because everybody's throwing mud pies or cow pies or French silk pies at everybody else, I'm with you entirely.

But rudeness and yelling and cynicism aren't necessary. I don't care if you don't want to tell me who you're voting for, and I get it if you're tired of the election hoopla dominating the front page, the news, the radio, the Internet and daily conversation. You don't have to talk to me; that is completely understandable. Some of us are just trying to become a part of the process, and if our AP government grades go up in the process...so be it. But must we get scornful?

A few weeks back I saw an editorial jeering the unsolicited removal of political yard signs from private residences. At the high school, sensitivities are flamed by slapping political bumper stickers on cars belonging to those with differing stances. I know people who don't speak to members of opposing political preferences, who've denounced friendships over apparently irresolvable policy-based divergences of opinion. Doesn't this sound just the slightest bit second grade? (Ewww! The Green Party members have COOTIES!!)

I cannot tell a lie: when asked to order the top 10 important aspects of American life and placed in a group with another liberal and two conservatives, I floundered to comprehend the diametrically opposite view the Republicans held. Our differences appeared irreconcilable, and our directions impossible to carry out. But we did, and both are amazing people whom I like and respect very much.

Personally, those monstrously obnoxious blow-up snowmen and Santas and snow globes that have cropped up in residential yards during Christmastime in the past few years bother me far more than any yard signs promoting Coleman or "Vote No" or Oompa Loompas for Senate or whatever else. (I'm starting to see Halloween versions, too, now...shudder.)

Are you ready? I may have something insightful to say here. Maybe. It could happen!

I've never ended a relationship because a friend has freckles that didn't quite match up with my layout (I have Cassiopeia on my left forearm), and nobody has ever told me we can't hang out any more because I maintain my stance that Brussels sprouts will take over the world if left to their own devices (it's true whether you steam them or brush them with an aromatic herb-based sauce).

Perhaps political standpoints are more relevant, but...are they really? You and I will always have varying beliefs and opinions. You may have enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones' performance in "No Country for Old Men," and I might not understand your disgust at my piercing my nose out of boredom with looking at my face in the mirror; these hardly seem like unbreachable chasms to me.

Put up your yard signs without fear or being kicked out of your neighborhood, and dare to discuss political preferences without risking ultimate dismissal by your loved ones. But, please, don't put up any more Palin-McCain signs in front of the high school? It's public property, my dears.

I see no need to cast bitter glances at Republican-themed streets or NObama bumper stickers. But -- be warned, readers -- I'm asking for a dart gun for Christmas, and if you notice that your hugely repulsive blowup holiday decorations have deflated into piles of ugly in your yards come Dec. 26, you'll know our differences are simply unfathomable to bridge.

Thressa Johnson is a senior at Detroit Lakes High School.

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