Anyone who has been in a middle-school lunchroom knows what it can be like. It isn’t always good times.
My name is Paul, and I am a 13-year-old, active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My mom, Suzanne Harrison, is running for the Utah Legislature. While we are out knocking on doors meeting voters, we sometimes are asked what party she is in, and I respond, saying, “She is a moderate Democrat because she cares about Utah families and children’s education.” Occasionally, I get a frown, or, “I’m a Republican, so …” That is to be expected on the campaign trail, but I was not expecting the things that have happened on the school bus or in the cafeteria.
My peers found out my mom is running as a Democrat. They were pretty surprised at first. The information about my mom spread throughout the school rapidly. Kids give me a hard time on the bus and before and after classes. Lunch is sometimes tough. One day in the cafeteria, I was quietly and happily eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich when two kids walked over to our table. One of them asked, “Paul, isn’t your mom a Democrat?” I hesitated, thinking of what could happen if I told them the truth. I decided to face whatever they were about to do because I thought they wouldn’t make a big deal about it. I was wrong. “Yes,” I replied. They started to chant loudly, “Democrat! Democrat!” over and over again, and some other kids joined in, attracting unwanted eyes from multiple corners of the lunchroom. I felt awkward and like an outsider. I didn’t feel like I fit in at all.
This wouldn’t have been a big deal on its own, but lots of other things have been said to me as well. One lunch period, one kid said, “I get to sit by the communist!” Another time, when a kid spilled milk all over the table we were sitting at, another kid said, “I volunteer Paul to go get napkins and clean it up because he is a Democrat.” I was often going home thinking about why my mom’s choice of political party mattered. Comments like, “Paul, your mom’s a Democrat!? I thought you guys are LDS!” have been frequent and annoying. They seemed shocked that active members of the LDS Church could be Democrats. On the bus, people have said to me, “Democrats are evil people.” This was hurtful in multiple ways. I felt isolated and that I couldn’t "fit in" socially. I was also hurt that they thought I couldn’t be a good person and follow Jesus if I belong to a different political party than they did.
They had to have learned this somewhere. I think they are learning this kind of talk in their homes, and I would hope we could have more respect for each other. I would never mock someone because his or her parent was running for office.
I am doing my best to be a good member of our church by trying to be kind, looking out for others, playing the piano at church, passing the sacrament and praying daily. It is hurtful when others accuse me and my family of being “evil people” because my mom is a Democrat. I know I can stand anywhere politically and still be a kind, compassionate person and be a good member of our church, and I wish all the kids at my school saw it this way too.
Paul Harrison lives in Draper and is a member of his school's mountain-biking team.