I Might Wear This Shirt For Awhile

The following interview was conducted November 6, 2008, part of a series of discussions called “44,” with people of varied background about their reactions to the 2008 election of Barack Obama. This interview is with Christina Schultze, an Obama supporter in 2008, a lesbian activist, and owner of Trash, a politically-tinged variety and clothing store.

When did you first encounter Barack Obama?

The speech have gave at the 2004 Democratic convention, probably like most people. I peaked my interest, and then I read his books. I wasn’t around in the Sixties; I was born in 1968. But hearing stories and hearing about the Kennedy’s. And by his speeches, that move masses. One-on-one is different, but to move masses, that has interested me. When I first heard him speak I didn’t know who he was. But he’s got a certain something about him. It’s charisma, it’s energy.

I went to see him in St. Louis. My partner and I went down there and it was amazing. He came and spoke under the Arch, but they only gave us a few days notice. It was not in the media, and then suddenly it was going to a stop, October 16th.

Over a hundred thousand people.

Yeah. The day before, once it was once—first of all, we had a run in the store on Obama gear. Every sticker, every button. We attended a fundraiser here at Big Daddy’s bar in Edwardsville, and we gave a percentage of our sales to the campaign and all that. So it really felt community-connected.

And then when we went down to St. Louis, we walked across the Eads Bridge, after having gotten up very early, and waited in line four three hours. I’ve been to demonstrations and I’ve been to see speakers before, but I’d never experienced something like this.

Please describe you store, Trash, that we’re in.

We’re certainly left-leaning—

Right, with some of the t-shirts and signs displayed.

What I think they are is political satire, except we are making a bit more wearable. Always challenging the status quo a bit. Not wanting everyone to come along with us, but giving the opportunity to say something, so I guess it’s passive-activism, without being too confrontational about what your opinions are. And so far a lot of people from town, I’ve made great relationships with people. The come into our store looking just a little left of center. That’s all. That doesn’t mean they dislike anything else going on in this town. I just think they want an alternative. To be active, to be engaged, to make statements.

Is a part of you going to miss the current political environment, having been so engaged with it?

We were just talking—what are we going to do now? And we really never did kick the McCain camp, first. We kicked back. You know, we kicked back when a conservative would poke a finger in a chest. We certainly will do that. But I would say that everyone is this business, everyone that comes here, they aren’t aggressive people. They’re actually laid back, philosophical, and just want to engage in conversation about about controversial issues of the times. That’s it. Talk about things that don’t get enough attention, in their opinion—or are getting so much that we’re here trying to figure out why everybody’s so in an upheaval.

I’m wearing this shirt for a particular reason today. It wasn’t by accident that I chose it. It’s because of what just happened in California, Proposition 8. We sell these shirts here at Trash: “Marriage is a human right, not a heterosexual privilege.” And we realize that the language is strong, but when you have something to say, perhaps people in the community need to identify—an it’s notfor everyone. We’re not telling everyone to run out and get one, just the people that do want to identify. I am an out, active lesbian in a long-term relationship with my partner. I think it’s important that people see us, so that when people do go cast a vote for a referendum, they’re not going, “I have no idea or connection to them as real people.”

The “I’ve never met one, so I won’t be affecting anyone around me that I know—”

Are you making a statement?

No, no. Just presuming what that voter might be thinking.

“I’ve never met one, so it’s easy to discriminate.” You’re exactly right. I’m sorry, I didn’t follow you. Yes. It’s easy to discriminate when you have no connection to people. We are all connected, and we realize that when we’re all pretty much more alike than we are different—that’s when it stops. I’ve said this about racism. These are my opinions, I’m not just trying to promote Trash. I’m a business partner and I have an opinion that’s very strong, generally, but I’m never above listening and learning from others. By being engaged in conversations, that’s how we all grow, progress, and evolve.

Just a few weeks ago I was on an early date with the girl I’m with. We were talking about family, and I said, “You know, amazingly, three or four relationships had gay brothers.” And she gave me a look that said, “Well…” Turned out one of the three she has is too. But it has long made for me that connection we were talking about, that this reality is more common and interspersed than might be realized.

I had a brother that was gay, and he passed. My other brother, that has a little four year old, is straight. And my heart goes out to him sometimes, but because “poor him,” but because he has to have that conversation with women that he dates. Because he has to have that conversation, because he’s not going to hate my mom and I. My mom has been in a long-term relationship for almost for almost twenty year as well. And so, the shirt I’m wearing today, I’m making a statement about that reality. And I might wear it for awhile. The reason is, again, because California passed a referendum making gay marriage illegal. Which had been legal for about four months. 18,000 couples that had married. Which isn’t anywhere near the overall number of gay and lesbian couples in that state. But 18,000 stood up and got married. Validated and recognized that they could share domestic partner benefits and things like that. And they got it revoked, as of Tuesday’s election. So now of course it will be debated.*

An interesting legal problem.

It is. But anyway, I’m much more than just politically engaged, regarding a national election. I’m engaged on all kinds of front, being the economy and eco things, peace. Hopefully Tuesday was the start of something.

Tuesday seems like a good place to begin.

His acceptance speech was wonderful. I mean… I cried. I could be verclempt about it right now. He has a certain spirituality, mixed with intelligence, and it seems also—and this is coming from a politically active lesbian—a traditional value system. One that many would say I lack, and yet they don’t even know me.

I’m very much a traditionalist. I like to cut firewood and have my cat on my lap. And I like to learn my grandmother’s cookie recipes. These are the things I do in my life that people would never know about if they don’t give me an opportunity.

One of the things I see, that Barack Obama has, is the ability to bring people together and calm their fears. So that we can use our heads and our hearts to do things that are right—not things that are always the most popular, or just something the populace off the top of their heads say we should do. Because he puts thoughts into his words, then I trust him to put action behind those words. As for his speech, it was eloquent, dynamic, and healing. Yet you could almost see the sense of humility. I don’t know if it was in part with his tiredness at the of the campaign or the lose of his grandmother.

I also applaud John McCain for a very well-made concession speech. I think that if John McCain had been that person, as he was Tuesday evening, it would have actually been a very close election. Because it is very difficult for me to dislike John McCain. I don’t really agree with a lot of his policies or platforms—but as a person. I don’t care for Sarah Palin. I won’t make no bones about it and there’s a million reasons why. And that’s an easy one for a lot of people. But John McCain—and people come in here and tell us all the time—it’s hard not to like him. You disagree with him. I have friends not as liberal as me, and we might disagree, but I love them still. You know?

What did John McCain have last night that you say he lacked these last months?

He was more true to who he was as a person. And at some point he lost control of his campaign. I feel like others chose to do things that presumably would benefit the campaign, but it backfired. The negativity, the mudslinging… Barack Obama always rose above the fray. I don’t know if in my forty-some years that I would have been so calm, cool and collected. And always stuck to my message, delivering it with heart-felt meaning he did for two years. Even under the microscope, under attack, as with his church membership.

If John McCain, getting back to him, would have been true—and that is what he has done his entire career—he could have won. But somewhere it got off the tracks, and it seemed very much like Karl Rove tactics being utilized, and I think people are fed up with it. We’ve had it for nearly a decade: the making fun of, the eye-rolling, the whatever-you-have-to-say-is-not-valid approach. The sort of constant feeling that if you do not fit into a particular mold in America you are somehow unpatriotic, you’re disrespectful, you’re vulgar.

I don’t like it, and most of my moderate-to-liberal friends don’t see things have to be that way. It takes all of our opinions to move forward, including the Christian right. Including the conservatives. And I think Barack summed it up, saying “I will listen to the people who disagree with me. As a matter of fact I will listen to you more.”

Like Lincoln forming a cabinet that was often at odd with him.

Exactly right. He speaks about Lincoln in his books, so he seems to be a followers of Lincoln’s practices. And being from Illinois I’m sure it feels close to home for him. Lincoln of course was a Republican, but that’s when the party was very different.

There is an understandable swell and release of excitement—and not just a bit of relief—for African-Americans, of course. I see this as a great opportunity, yet I ask myself if I can ever truly understand the magnitude and significance of Obama’s election. And truthfully I know I cannot. Perhaps much the same way I hope for equality that includes gay rights, but I won’t really what it would be like to have that happen either. I guess I try to respect and be aware of my relative vantage-point. So I’ve sort of resigned myself to watching, but liking what I see.

I understand that. I understand what you are saying, and I don’t want the focus to be over-wrought, unrealistic. You’re sitting back and taking it in, okay. This is absolutely the truth: I had throughout the day, until we closed at six o’clock, people come in just to say “Yes we can,” and “We did it,” and “How are you?” and “How do you feel?” All day that went on. And they were black and they were white; they were young and they were old. High schoolers were coming in and talking about politics, and trying to turn us on to some death metal music, which I obliged them by listening to. Ugh. Good for you kids, I can’t listen to this, I’m getting older.

So you know what I mean? It was a cross-section of people that came into our store to give us a high-five and say… “Now what?” Like everybody could take a collective breath. But as far as—sometimes I wish the media, left right and middle, would focus on it a little less. I realize that it is history. I’m not trying to downplay that, but I want in their next breath to be: this is the most qualified individual. I mean, how do you say he’s “half-black and half-white?” I think people say that to make themselves feel better. I wish we would appreciate the history for what the history is. And I want to move on to something, eventually, other than race. Barack has always tried to not raise the issue of race, or be defined by it, to address it only when it comes up. It’s because we as a society simplistically view him as a black man.

We should see him as not “the black president,” but as a president who happens to be black—the historical significant aside. We’ll all be better served for it.

For real. I’ve always learned to view things that way. And defining what someone is or is-not is hard. Sometimes I hear people say things when they come in. I hear justifications; sometimes we’ll end up with some very conservative people in here. We’ve lost a few customers, actually, because they don’t see Republican, McCain/Palin, pro-conservative items. We’ve had a few turn on their heel and because we didn’t have McCain shirts of buttons. We don’t share that ideology so we’re not going to promote it. “But you should,” we were told. We don’t hate anybody, but it’s our checks being written to bring the inventory in, so quite frankly it’s not going to be ordered. But we wish them well. We said, “best of luck” to them, not sarcastically, but we don’t carry it. Corporations have to, because they have to play the middle of the road.

If the Obama administration is unconventionally heavy with Republicans, yet they are competent, you would agree that—

Completely. I trust my president. This president. I have not trusted my president in eight years. If he chooses to appoint Republicans, or Independents, or Green Party, I trust him. So I’m not going judge at this point. I’ll be following, reading. I’m very interested in this presidency and its future Supreme Court nominations. Sometimes when me and others get into a heated debate the naysayers ask “What are they going to do? What is one president going to do?” And it’s so much bigger than that. It’s about where the Senate sits, as well as the House, and who’s coming up for nominations. Because right now we have an extremely right-leaning bench. And it is important that we stay as middle-of-the-road as possible, and not appoint extremists. I could say that some are ultra right-wing, but I’m sure they’d feel I am ultra left-wing, and that’s okay. But it’s difficult. They are talking about activist judges a lot, and I believe actually the opposite is true, pointing a finger at moderate to liberal people. I feel like reverends and ministers and Christian coalitions—people that are on the extreme right—are actually the ones stacking our court system. And this is where our laws are rules on, where schools decide which books will be taught.

You talked about “your president,” and it made me remember four or five years ago, Britney Spears saying “We just need to trust our president and he’ll do the right thing.” Trust can be funny, I guess. What is the difference, if there is any, now?

Wow, good question. …Good question, because I remember scoffing when I heard that comment. I guess it boils down to paying attention to or turning it over to what they call faith. It sounds like how belief is used religiously. In my case, in my trust, I am very secular. But at some point you do just have to turn it over to the person in charge; that’s what the election was for. People—Republicans, I mean— already don’t want to believe that they’ll have to sit back like I’ve had to do the last eight years, trusting that some things went right, all along not really agreeing with the policies made. But I still had to live with them.

I’ve said many times that Bush is not my president. He’s the president of the United States, but he’s not my president. And so Britney Spears said that, and I don’t have abdomens that look like hers, but I probably read more. But, no, I really don’t know her wealth of knowledge. Some might say that about me, well I also don’t know Britney and what she’s privy to.

Can you predict a point of criticism you might one day have for this administration?

Our job is to watch, to be critical. Well, I’m already critical, before he was elected. I was—well, I really don’t think so much changed his position. But he softened his line when it came to drilling. He was the advocate of no drilling, but it was softened I think because if gas prices and the G.O.P’s “drill baby drill.” Everyone jumping on the “we need our own resources again,” to stop dependence of foreign oil, so I think he caved to popular demand, in the moment. At the same time, if you are representing people you need to listen to what they are saying, be they all of your constituents or not. So my hope is this: that he stay true to himself, that he doesn’t get too many Washington fingerprints on him—because I think the machine is sometimes bigger than the man or the woman—and would hope that he always keep the people that have influenced him previously close, especially his family. My predictions are he is going to more forward with a lot of things that seem very progressive, and that anytime you create change it will be resisted in the beginning.

He really doesn’t want to take handguns away, and he doesn’t want to take God out of everything—off the currency, the money, out of your lives. And he doesn’t just want gays running the country. Those are just scare tactics, that have made people so afraid, that we won’t do things like put his hand on a Bible with all of this propaganda.

Start slow, build momentum for greater works?

I hope so, but how slow can you go on the economy? The economy is what helped him win the election, and I hope it’s one of the first things he addresses. It can happen, like this gas prices. It’s been nice, this fall to finally fill up your tank and not cost $80, but instead $45? And the economy matters to us. Lisa and I have just opened up this retail store, so it really matters to us—because we know you don’t really need that scarf.

How will your small business taxes be this year?

They’ll be fine, I think they’ll remain unchanged. Don’t you, Lisa? I mean, yeah, this year? They’ll be okay this year, and listen, I used to own a small business, and this whole scare tactic about your taxes going up, if anybody has leeway or understands taxes, and can afford to pay the accountants, figure out the tax laws… If people are being afraid of being taxed to death because they have a small business I just think that’s inaccurate information. Another scare tactic that a lot of conservative people will throw at there to the entrepreneurial community in order to frighten them: “I won’t be able to order inventory I’ll be taxed so much,” or “I won’t be able to meet payroll.” Just scare tactics. I don’t agree this is true.

Have you read his proposals?

On his website? Yes I have. And I’m not worried about them. We’re brand new, so it’s not as if we have a huge payroll, most of the inventory is not done on credit. We’re sort of the exception to the rule. But there will be other businesses and that will be looking as well and criticizing his tax proposals.

I had a conversation with with a customer that just left, and her sister had some health issues. She can’t afford to retire, from a company that she’s been at for 38 years—38 years! And I don’t understand why she can’t leave. She certainly has enough time in, she has plenty in her retirement program. She can’t leave because she can’t afford the co-op conversion out of her medical benefits. She is tied to her job, because the benefits even on Cobra would be like $700 or $800. She can’t afford it. That’s what makes me feel sad for her.

It’s not just “lesbian” issues, it’s not just “radical” issues that I go for, because as much as it comes of as that, anyone will see more that takes the time to get to know me. And many people that I hang out with may know that I don’t agree with Hands Across America—the anti-abortionists—and what they’re saying as they drag their children out on the picket line. But I will also—

Such as in the documentary Jesus Camp.

Yes, Jesus Camp, thank you. But what I will also do is march in the streets fortheir right to assemble. Do you know what I mean? So that’s what a lot think, that activists and protesters only want that right of assembly and voice for “liberal” agendas, if you will. But I will do it for anybody; that’s part of what makes America.

Because today’s conservative ideas are often yesterday’s liberal ideas.

Where do you get that—who said that?

For example, giving women the right to vote, once was radical, and now it is almost taken for granted.

It was, you’re exactly right. What do we teach the next generation?

Maybe they’ll teach us.

And we should listen. I learn stuff every single day, I’m so full of good fortune. I stay here at his counter I get to know the folk in the community. I learn so much from the youth and what they’re talking about, what’s important to them.

                            Advocates for Illinois same-sex marriage, Chicago, May 2013.

At the same time I feel like I should pay it forward. I was looking up today what the Illinois state is for same-sex marriage.** Of course it was right under “You can’t marry your cousin.” Which is sort of funny to me. But I want them to know—Lisa and I were talking about this this morning—what are the corporations that support Christian right coalitions and movement. Because this isn’t a matter of the gay community saying “We hate them” or “They shouldn’t be able to practice capitalism.” It’s the fact that I want to be an informed person, so if someone stops by and says “I don’t know who to support” I can then tell them which people fund what advocacy vehicles. Take it for what it’s worth.

So now what I want to do as an activist is inform myself, so that I’m going to spend a dollar tonight, I feel like I have an informed choice of where I’ll spend it. That’s all. It’s what’s made lots of communities strong. It’s basically built the Jewish community, immigrant communities, if you want to go back over a hundred years.

I’m not about violence, or—I am about peaceful protest. I’m not about getting into a heated argument and hating my neighbor. Instead, I want to have a better understanding. But also if you are never going to hear my point of view then it will effect you financially. And if I can help spread the word, as a personal activist, having nothing to do with Trash, then I feel good about my day. Feel good that I’m accomplishing something, making it better for the next generation.

What’s become a standard question during these interviews, but a vital one: kids will growing up knowing nothing but an African-American president. But then more , a president that lives his life and performs his duties as simply a man.

How cool, how cool would that be? More accepting, don’t you think? I grew up in an all-white school where I graduated with 700 students. There was one kid that was black. But I’ve made it my practice to integrate myself into people’s lives, and invite them into my life. Because I didn’t want to grow up hearing racist slurs from my living room. You can almost—I don’t want to say condone it—but you can almost forgive it when it’s a generation away from our parents. Not forgive it either, but understand. It doesn’t ever make hate or racism or sexism or elitism okay. Right. But when it was our parents, and we grow up with it, it is ourresponsibility, right now, no matter what age group you’re in, to make it better for the kids that are listening to us, and watching it all go down. The youth vote was enormous in this election.

I think we are past so much, but we’re not far enough. There were two people in here yesterday who made their way around; when they saw all the Obama stuff and no McCain stuff their body language changed and they stomped out. I said, “have a nice day.” You are not ever going to make everybody happy, but sometimes you can just read the tones.

My partner works for people who are friends of ours who we’ve had many a cocktail with and an intelligent conversation. And even them, a couple of them, yesterday said “Yeah, you see them all dancing in the streets?” My partner asked where, because we’ve seen so many people celebrating, like many parts of the world did. “No,” said replied, “in Kenya.” Very condescending, sarcastic. Very heavy. And these are people who I would consider friends. We said to them that people were also dancing in China, in Japan, India, and Australia.

I grew up with a father from which I learned to debate from an early age, because of the things that were coming out of his mouth. I didn’t agree with it. My father was the kind of guy who got his information from a single source. He loved Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, and if he were still around he would be following Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. And he never wanted to hear anyone else’s opinion. He was a card-carrying staunch Republican, with pictures of all the Republican leaders on his walls. The Bush dynasty, and Limbaugh, and most especially Ronald Reagan. In fact we just got a picture of McCain sent to us because the Republican party is still asking my deceased father for money.

*On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision on the caseHollingsworth v. Perry, ruling that Propitiation 8 did not possess legal standing to defend the resulting law in federal court. On June 28, 2013, the lower Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, enabling Governor Jerry Brown to order a resumption of marriage certificates. Source: California Proposition 8 (2008)

**Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill establishing civil unions for same-sex couples on January 31, 2011. On November 20, 2013 Illinois became the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage, with the law going into effect June 1, 2014. Source:Same-sex marriage in Illinois

***For more oral history interviews concerning the 2008 election of Barack Obama, click here:

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