State Conventions Through the Eyes of a Page
When I was in middle school, I made a habit of volunteering as a page at the North Dakota Grand Old Party’s state convention every year, more commonly known as the North Dakota Republican Party. It was here in Fargo once, and I remember another one in Bismarck, but I don’t remember all that much about the circumstances of each convention. My mother was a delegate for our district, so while she voted and did whatever else delegates do – I don’t know, I was fourteen – I was a page, which basically meant I was an errand boy.
Now, I am not an altruistic enough person to spend a whole weekend volunteering out of the goodness of my heart, and I sure wasn’t when I was in middle school, so there was a reason I did this beyond the fact that my mother was there.
The errands I ran were almost exclusively going to the concession stands for people who didn’t want to leave their seats, or fetching pens or paper – and the concession stands only took cash. I made off like a bandit with tips every year, and I knew I was a cute kid: gap-toothed and earnest, I was the picture of a good, tiny Republican, and I handled my menial tasks well.
So I spent a glorious weekend every year walking from the convention floor to the concessions over and over and always getting to keep the change. It was awesome, and I had little to no grasp of what was going on in the world of politics at the time, which is important to note.
I wouldn’t be caught dead at a GOP convention now, only because I think it would take under three seconds for me to start an argument out of pure righteous anger, but at the time I was a kid and it was easy money. That’s what drew all the other pages, too – every district of North Dakota had two kids running their errands all weekend and gleefully pocketing cash as we went.
So, I’m sure you can imagine our dismay when, one year, we were all in a room for the page orientation on the morning of the first day and an announcement was made: we would all be pooling our tips at the end of the weekend and splitting them evenly amongst us.
There were a few page jobs, like clerical work or moving boxes, where the unlucky kids assigned there had zero chance to make tips. They and their parents didn’t find this fair, which had been relayed to the head pages, and so the policy change was made.
Naturally, the room erupted in indignation. Every one of us except the few kids who weren’t running errands was furious – we earned those tips, and we shouldn’t have to share the labors of our hard work. That sounded like socialism. No, worse. Communism. And amongst the Republican party? No, thank you!
Naturally, a horde of angry little capitalists poured out of the room to complain – to our parents, the other page leaders, anyone – but our pleas went ignored. The new policy was final and decided by higher-ups without a single consultation of the affected parties.
I don’t think the kids who complained about not getting tips even knew this was the plan, which is a little ironic. I mean, we were about to spend a weekend hearing people stand on a stage and promise that if they were voted in, they would place the power back in the hands of the people – not the faraway Federal government, who would make decisions for us without knowing what we needed. A bit on the nose, no?
Powerless, we went about our tasks with an air of affront all weekend, chests puffed righteously. It didn’t occur to a single one of us to do something like – oh, I don’t know – withhold our services if we didn’t get a say, which is pretty unsurprising for a room of miniature “Republicans.” Going on strike wasn’t exactly heralded as a patriotic move in that particular collection of people, so we resigned ourselves to our fate.
But at the end of the convention, when we all glumly handed over our earnings, some of us had stopped being quite as upset. I don’t know what it was that made that year different, but some districts tended to tip very well, while others went all weekend without a single concession request. It was business as usual for half of us, but the other half spent most of the weekend standing around doing nothing.
Plus, pages did better when they were working for districts where everyone knew them, or they had a parent or relative as a delegate – or maybe even a representative or something higher up. You start to feel bad when it’s your neighbor’s little daughter sitting there bored as opposed to a kid you’ve never seen before, and that’s when the pity Diet Coke orders begin.
The weekend after the convention we all got an envelope with our earnings, and I don’t think a single kid was disappointed. Those of us who had had a rough go of it were delighted, and the ones who had made off with an abundance of bounty felt bad for the rest of us and weren’t as mad about splitting the wealth. I remember a lot of smug told-you-so’s from the adults when we relented and begrudgingly admitted that it wasn’t that bad.
What’s funny, though, and the reason I wanted to tell this story, is that while all this was going on, the convention itself was a two-day rally against the creeping socialist tendencies of the Democratic party. I remember hearing countless speeches about cutting welfare programs and keeping refugees and immigrants out of our precious country, lest they take our hard-earned money.
Capitalism was the name of the game, and if you couldn’t pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, then you suffered the consequences and that was it. It was every man for himself.
Except it wasn’t every man for himself, not when it was the representatives’ kids. When it was your daughter or your neighbor’s son, it was obviously unfair that pure chance had robbed them of the opportunity to be compensated for their work, so something had to be done. We all had to come together and the more fortunate among us needed to look out for the unlucky, and the adults knew we weren’t going to do it ourselves.
The outrage at the mere suggestion alone meant they were going to force us to enact this policy, whether we liked it or not, and they did. And it worked out for everyone involved – something that would never have happened if it were left up to our collective pre-pubescent judgment.
The leaders of the Republican Party are famously opposed to expanding welfare programs and instead espouse a purely capitalist approach. Growing up in Fargo, I’ve heard this justified time and again with the explanation that welfare programs are dangerous because if you give the greedy, lazy poor an inch, they’ll take a mile. Expanding welfare is the first step towards turning the United States into a soulless Communist dictatorship – or so the NDGOP leaders would have you believe.
This isn’t true. Representative Kelly Armstrong isn’t vehemently against free healthcare because he’s afraid it will lead to the crumbling of America’s freedom. “Welfare” isn’t a dirty word in Republican circles because it poses a real threat to American citizens. Republican leaders work so hard against these things because they know that they do work, and they’re afraid of what will happen if everyone had the same chances they do. Why else would this be the strategy they immediately turn to when it’s their own children suffering?
The men and women running the NDGOP like being a part of the privileged class, and they refuse to extend a hand to help because they’re happy with the system as it is. It benefits them, and they cover this up by pretending they’re trying to protect their lower-class constituents from further ruin at the hands of Communism. They’re lying. They know mutual aid works, and they want to reserve those benefits for the people they choose.
Republican leaders are not opposing free healthcare in order to protect citizens from a possible Communist takeover. They’re not looking out for us. They’re scared. They can’t risk uplifting the underprivileged because it might topple them from their own pedestals, and all their hand-wringing about losing our rights to an overreaching federal government is nothing but a ploy. A cover story to justify the fact that they just don’t want to help people or uplift minorities. They aren’t afraid welfare will destroy democracy. They’re afraid that it will make democracy work the way it’s supposed to and give everyone a fair shot.