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Yes, I’m a formerly-conservative leftist. No, my professors didn’t brainwash me.

I still remember the incident that sparked my interest in politics.

I was 8years old and in third grade. The 2008 presidential election was on the horizon, and my elementary school decided to hold a mock election of its own. I’m not sure how they expected third, fourth and fifth graders to have enough political knowledge to choose a candidate, but it happened nonetheless.

The day before the election, I asked my mom who I should vote for. She said I should vote for whoever I wanted. I then asked who she was voting for.

“John McCain,” she replied. “We’re Republicans.”

From that moment on, I was a Republican. Never one to disobey my parents, I took their political beliefs and internalized them as my own.

McCain won the election at my school, but Obama won the presidency. I was dejected. I sulked around at school the next day, telling everyone what a shame it was that McCain had been defeated.

I, of course, had no idea what either party stood for when I was 8. But as I grew older and continued to embrace my identity as a Republican, I started to pick things up. Many Google searches of “what do Republicans believe?” informed my political stances as a young teenager.

During my first two years in high school, being conservative was essentially my entire identity. This was partially because of my intense interest in politics and partially because I was really loud and obnoxious about my beliefs.

In 2016, I supported Trump (typing that sentence caused me physical pain, but it’s the truth.) I often say the day he won the election was the peak of my conservatism.

It all went downhill after that.

As I got ~older and wiser~, I started to question whether I actually believed many of the things I said I believed. Like I said, many of my political views at the time were gleaned from Google searches and my parents rather than actual introspection.

During my senior year, I underwent a pretty dramatic transformation from a staunch conservative to a moderate Democrat, and I’ve been shifting leftward ever since.

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Currently, as a junior in college, I struggle to put an exact label on my political identity, but I usually just tell people I’m a communist (partly for the shock value and partly because it’s close to the truth).

Many members of my extended family have no idea I’ve changed in this way, and to be honest, I’m terrified to tell them. Even my own parents aren’t aware of the extent of my transformation (but I suppose they will be after reading this —hi, mom and dad!). 

Why, though? Why is it so scary to speak my truth and tell my loved ones that I think capitalism is immoral and that I’ve literally never believed in God despite being a confirmed Catholic?

The answer is simple: It’s because society has created a strange stigma around changing your beliefs.

I’ve talked to others who have undergone transformations similar to mine, and they all express the same sentiment. When they reveal that they’ve become more liberal over time, people automatically assume they were brainwashed by their Marxist professors or they’re jumping on some sort of bandwagon.

While that may be the case for a minority of people, I can say firsthand that, for the most part, that’s bullshit.

If anything, my conservatism was caused by a bandwagon effect —though my parents have never pressured me to believe the same things they do, the sole reason I decided I was conservative at a young age was because they were.

This year especially, we need to normalize changing our minds.

I know people who voted for Trump in 2016 who wholeheartedly regret it and are voting for Biden this year. Others have voted for Republicans their entire life but are voting for Biden this year because they can’t stomach voting for Trump again. Still others typically don’t vote at all but are voting for Biden this year because they think Trump has mishandled the pandemic.

These, along with a million other mind-changing scenarios, are signs of the type of critical thinking and reflection that is essential for preserving our democracy. We need to stop frowning upon things like this and, instead, encourage them.

After all, 12 years after crying over Obama becoming president, I’m staring at the Biden flag in my window as I write this. And frankly, I’ve never been happier.