We Are Americans. We Contain Multitudes.

I am not Red or Blue.

In 1988, I voted for Republican George Bush. In 2000, I volunteered to work on Democrat Bill Bradley’s campaign. On my mother’s side of the family, our Dutch ancestors sailed to America in 1662. On my father’s side of the family, he was the first of his siblings to emigrate here from the Philippines in 1963. I was raised in rural Illinois, and I’m raising my daughters in Northern California.

When Walt Whitman wrote “I am large, I contain multitudes,” he was speaking for all of us. Our lives are large enough to encompass an entire spectrum of experiences and beliefs—and who we are is far more complicated than the mere colors “Red” and “Blue” could ever describe.

In today’s political culture, the pundits want you to believe that you must be one color or the other. In doing so, they depict all Americans as necessary adversaries—as two groups poised in perpetual battle, fighting for entirely opposite goals. But that is not who we are. 

We are large, and we contain multitudes—both as a nation, and as individuals. And we are free—both as a nation, and as individuals. This means that we are free to choose for ourselves the content of our personal political portfolios, and free to let that content reflect our multitudes. We do not have to squeeze ourselves into some far-off pundit’s pre-determined vision of who we must be according to the crayon with which they’ve colored us.

Whitman understood more than just our multifaceted selves, he also understood what Abraham Lincoln meant when he stated: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” During his lifetime, the poet witnessed first-hand the destruction that can be wrought in a nation where all Americans view themselves as necessary adversaries fighting for opposite goals. 

But in our current era of deep partisan animosity, we are free to choose a different path. We are free to begin viewing fellow Americans not as adversaries, but as people of different beliefs—different multitudes—who still share common goals. And if this nation is going to both endure and thrive here in the 21st century, Americans of all different beliefs must come together in defense of our climate.

A lack of unity now will cost our nation dearly in the future, and when that future arrives, we will not be able to undo the destruction wrought by our inability to come together in this moment. This is the call to arms of our time, and the moment will not come again. It requires that all of us summon the best of ourselves, to call upon the most noble and hopeful parts of our multitudes and reach out to fellow Americans, so we can fight this battle for our future together.

We are not Red or Blue. We are Americans, we can choose to be whomever we want—and the Americans of tomorrow need us to choose wisely.

R. Sal Reyes • Co-founder of Cross the Aisle for Climate