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Choosing unity over division at the Sunday dinner table

It’s days before the 2020 presidential election, but we don’t talk about it. It is too divisive. Yet four generations gather around the table nearly every Sunday “after church.”

It’s days before the 2020 presidential election, but we don’t talk about it. It is too divisive. We don’t agree and no one’s minds will change. Yet four generations gather around the table nearly every Sunday “after church.”

Erin Schutte Wadzinski
Erin Schutte Wadzinski
Ever since I moved back to my rural hometown in Minnesota, my house has been the gathering space. I like to cook, plus once I had a baby it was just easier for everyone to come here. Now I’m part of the generation that cares for family both younger and older. Satisfying their bellies is one way to keep them happy and healthy.

My parents are evangelical farmers, and they faithfully vote to preserve their conservative way of life. “I vote for the person, not the party,” my mom said years ago in a rare comment on politics. Whatever person is anti-abortion, that is. I wonder if she is still voting for the “person” this election cycle, but I don’t dare ask.

Agriculture is all my dad has ever known, and he still believes that President Trump and the Republican Party have the best economic interests at heart for the small family farmer. That or he just can’t muster the courage to vote for a Democrat.

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I know what it’s like to vote in the interests of your own livelihood. I am an immigration attorney, and my career as I know it will only exist if the legal immigration system remains intact. The Trump administration has chiseled away at the pathway for immigrants to live in this country legally, and I dread what my law practice will look like if we have another four years of restricted immigration policy.

Maybe this is how my dad felt about tightened environmental regulations, higher estate taxes, and more expensive health care for the self-employed — all making a hard job harder during the Obama years.

But love is love, at least according to my lesbian aunts. They’re the only “out” lesbians I know in our small town. The boisterous, tattooed woman my mom’s sister married always sits at the table next to my 85-year-old grandma, my dad’s mom. Why, I don’t know. They couldn’t be more opposite and I’m not sure which one needed more courage to open her mind and tolerate the other. But they like my cooking, so neither turns down the invitation.

A few years ago my maternal grandpa caught whiff of my progressive leanings, and he whispered to me that he was a “secret Democrat.” Sshhhh. Welcome to the club, grandpa. I’m not sure how that is possible for a Fox News addict like he is, but I’m guessing it is a nod of respect to his middle-aged daughter who only a few years ago got to legally marry the love of her life.

As much as I would love a rational, informative, convincing lecture on politics to change the hearts and minds of some of my closest family members, telling them that they are wrong will do no good. Being confrontational about politics will only sow seeds of hate amongst my family members. Part of me feels that I am a coward for not speaking up. Another part feels restrained and inauthentic for not rebuking some of my loved ones for being, what I believe is, on the wrong side of history.

I’ve decided to let my actions demonstrate my values and my family undoubtedly notices. I work day in and day out to give a voice to our nation’s most marginalized populations. Owning my own business, I show young women that they too can be leaders and entrepreneurs. I am raising my daughter to believe that she can be anyone and do anything.

Is this enough? Never. I refuse to turn a blind eye to the injustices of our world, and I recognize that unity blossoms only through mutual respect and love for one another. But during this season of polarization, it is my intent to treat those with a different political opinion in the same way as I treat my ultra-conservative grandma. Or my mom. Or my dad. I choose love over hate. Unity over division.

Only then do we all choose to come together around the table.

Erin Schutte Wadzinski is an attorney and owner of Kivu Immigration Law PLLC in her hometown of Worthington. She is an Initiators Fellow of Greater Minnesota.

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