Only now do I feel unsafe in hometown

Forty-six years ago, I chose Wheaton to be the place where I would live out my life - an unlikely choice for an areligious, mixed-race, counterculture young woman. Home to Billy Graham's alma mater Wheaton College, one of the few remaining "dry" cities and the religious publishing capital of the world, Wheaton represented safety for a 19-year-old who'd had more than her share of #MeToo moments.

After the first Earth Day I'd committed to making a life for myself which would be independent of a gas guzzling car; I could safely navigate my adopted hometown by bicycle and walking.

I found a job in downtown Wheaton and embarked on giving back to my new community by becoming an English literacy volunteer for a Laotian refugee high schooler and a volunteer receptionist in the Planned Parenthood makeshift clinic in an Episcopal Church basement. Young draftees were still dying in Vietnam, there hadn't yet been a school mass shooting and Roe v. Wade had just passed.

The first time I felt less than proud and safe to live in Wheaton was when, during the 2006 Fourth of July parade, the crowds booed as congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth wheeled down Main Street waving an American flag. The crowd booed a veteran who lost her legs when the helicopter she was co-piloting was hit and they did it presumably for no other reason than Duckworth being a woman and a Democrat.

When Wheaton College's first tenured black female professor was dismissed for wearing a hijab in "solidarity with my Muslim neighbor," when Franklin Graham declared carrying guns was a God-given right, when Evangelical leaders began praising and defending our current amoral, misogynistic president who sides with dictators, foments intolerance and denies climate change and when my friends started declaring LGBTQ rights and a woman's right to choose should be rescinded - I realized my All-American city no longer made me feel protected and secure.

This Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., we had military tanks and a divisive, self-enriching president thumbing his nose at the American people and I no longer feel safe in my hometown.

Jane Cox


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