That’s NOT My Orange County4 min read

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They stood out there and shouted. “Go Back Home!” They stood out there and they booed as parents walked into a building with their kids. They stood out there and shouted obscenities at children.

“They” are the terrorists who wrapped themselves in the flag in Yorba Linda and who embraced fascism, hatred, and inhumanity at a fundraising dinner for a local Islamic charity. “They” included two United States Congressmen, Ed Royce and Gary Miller, who should be thrown out of the House immediately for their attendance at this horrible, awful display of venomous hate. “They” included a Villa Park city councilwoman who suggested that the Marines send these peaceful Americans “to paradise.”

Having been born and raised in Orange County, with a lot of family and friends still living there, I know the place’s reputation as a right-wing bastion. I know the stories of the popularity of the John Birch Society, because people I know participated in it in the 1950s and 1960s. I know well the hatred of Latinos that still characterizes far too many white attitudes in Orange County. And I know well the bigoted attitudes towards Muslims.

But that’s not my Orange County. That wasn’t what I was raised to believe. That wasn’t the community I lived in. That wasn’t the values my friends and I shared as we went from childhood to adulthood.

My Orange County is a deeply diverse place – and is a place that welcomes and embraces that diversity. My Orange County would say to a Muslim family “welcome home” and never “go back home” – because my Orange County knows that they already are home. My Orange County takes pride in its Latino community and heritage. My Orange County knows the important role African Americans continue to play in our neighborhoods. My Orange County welcomed Asian Americans with open arms, as equals.

I know that’s not everyone’s Orange County. I have heard often the everyday racism and white privilege that can also characterize life there. It is not only real, it is pervasive. I know that many people of color do not feel safe, or equal, or welcome in Orange County.

My point isn’t that Orange County isn’t racist. Clearly, some of it still is, or else that video could never have been shot. My point is instead to rally a different Orange County to stand up and reject this. Because there really is a different and a better Orange County out there. And it’s time it stood up and made itself seen and heard.

Sometimes people ask me how I became so left-wing given the fact that I spent the first 18 years of my life behind the orange curtain. They find it even more surprising when they learn I was in a Rush Limbaugh Fan Club at age 14, that I was in the Young Republicans at age 15. But at age 16 and 17 I woke up. I began to mature. I began to realize that true strength, true freedom, and true patriotism comes from embracing the reality of a diverse community, and not from cowardly shouting horrible things at people who are my neighbors. I learned that everything I believed in – equality, justice, freedom – was opposed by the right. And I learned that the right no longer represented my values, if they ever did at all.

Orange County is changing. Democrats have found a home there. Sooner or later – and hopefully sooner, as in 2012 – more Democrats will make breakthroughs and take state legislative and Congressional seats from the hatemongers, whose numbers are dwindling fast. Bill Hedrick and Debbie Cook came close in 2008. Melissa Fox and Phu Nguyen put up a strong fight in 2010. Local Democratic elected officials in cities across the county put in long hours and persevere in the face of dogged efforts by the right-wing establishment to cling to power.

I have always believed that Orange County would turn blue someday. That day is fast approaching. And no wonder some on the right are lashing out at the forces they cannot control, at the changes they cannot stop. They believed that Orange County was theirs – a place for the white right alone. They were always wrong. Their children never bought into the lie. But they deluded themselves into thinking it was true. Now that the truth is clear, they are fighting back with all the venom and hate they can muster.

My Orange County doesn’t accept that. My Orange County won’t stand for it. I hope and expect my Orange County to tell every single person who participated in that hateful rally to go back to that Islamic community, get on their knees and beg for forgiveness.

And if they don’t, my Orange County will tell those right-wing bigots to “go back home” – because they don’t have any place in my Orange County. Because they are not welcome in my Orange County. Because my Orange County moved on from that kind of hate a long, long time ago.

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Robert Cruickshank is an editor at Calitics.com,
where this article originally appeared. Born in Orange County, Robert
has lived in Berkeley and Monterey and is active in state politics.

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