It was 9:00, much too early for a Saturday morning, at Right Online in Las Vegas last July, when I walked into the ballroom of the Venetian where the morning roster of speakers was schedule to address the assembled activists. I spotted my North Carolina buddy, Katy Benningfield, chatting with someone on Blogger Row to the rear of the auditorium. I decided to walk back and say “HI” since the festivities had not yet commenced. Katy introduced me to her fellow conversationalist, a lovely young woman with a beaming countenance. And thus, quite randomly, it would seem, I met my friend, Ashley Sewell.
Ashley excels at a multitude of pursuits that are quickly bringing her recognition. She travels regularly for her employer, the marvelous Smart Girl Politics organization. She blogs, frequently and eloquently, on substantive matters, from foreign affairs to Texas regional disputes, as well as multiple other non-political topics. She has just launched an Internet radio broadcast and appears regularly as a guest on The Jenny Erikson Show. And this only scratches the effervescent surface of a week in the life of Ashley Sewell.
I have told multiple friends that Ashley is a winsome representation of the heart of the conservative movement. As you will read below, she has internalized, via the ebb and flow of daily existence, the message of freedom, self-reliance and opportunity that our cause embodies. She articulates it with grace, charm and conviction.
We can never have too many welcoming voices in our ranks, as conservatives. And when I think of a cheerful tone, a gesture of invitation, a warm smile…that’s my friend, Ashley Sewell. Follow her on Twitter now at @TXTrendyChick and become part of the fan club!
A final admission: I don’t often quote film critic Roger Ebert. We lack much common philosophical ground. But years ago, I read a review of the Denzel Washington movie, Antwone Fisher, a poignant reminder of the power of perseverant kindness in the face of human tragedy. In his accompanying remarks, Ebert observed, “I have noticed that when I am deeply affected emotionally, it is not by sadness so much as by goodness.” And in that spirit, unbidden tears welled as I absorbed Ashley’s answer to my 8th question.
10 Questions for Ashley Sewell
1. You don’t have to look far to ascertain that “Ashley is a Texas girl!” Did you grow up in Texas and if so, how has that shaped the person you are today?
I am proud to say I’m a first generation Texan. My mom’s family is from Oklahoma and my dad’s from Missouri, so they were not born in Texas, but they got here just as fast as they could! There is an inexplicable pride associated with being a bona fide Texan. We think our way is the only way to do things, that our barbecue and Mexican food is superior to other states, that Tom Landry should be made a saint or something equivalent, and that absolutely everything must be bigger simply because it’s from Texas.
Perhaps the power of pride is the greatest thing that Texas has taught me. Being Texan has always been an overwhelming portion of my identity, but when I came into adulthood and recognized the blessing that being an American is, I felt the patriotic love in my heart swell exponentially.
“Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word. And there’s an opening covey of generalities. A Texan outside of Texas is a foreigner.” ~John Steinbeck
2. I recently started following your Dad on Twitter after realizing that is who @DrBob_Southlake is! It seems clear that you had a solid upbringing and that your father is proud of the daughter he raised (as he should be!) Tell us more about your family.
I couldn’t have asked for a better family. Throughout my childhood, my parents had a solid relationship and showed us that love is a lot of hard work, but worth it. That lesson certainly wove its way throughout my relationships with my siblings; loving each other was, in fact, difficult at times, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
My sister is 10 years my senior and has always been my hero. I have two blood brothers, 2 and 7 years younger than me. My third brother is 2 years my junior; he came to live with us when I was in high school, and has been a fixture ever since.
We didn’t grow up in a political house, but with a doctor for a dad, we knew about the agonies of insurance long before Obama or even Hillary hit the scene. I think one of the reasons we never talked about politics is because my parents wanted us to figure it out on our own, to find our own beliefs and convictions. Now, that’s not to say that if one of us came home a liberal that we wouldn’t be persuaded, heckled, or possibly even coerced into the other side.
All of my siblings are staunch conservatives, although they may not be as vocal about it as I am. This was completely proven on Christmas when one of my brothers, the 2nd Amendment enthusiast, was given a little metal sign for the front yard (in lieu of an alarm system warning) that reads: “There is nothing in this house worth dying for.” No one was remotely offended; in fact, we all wanted to know where we could get one!
3. You are a fluent writer, with a blog that is not only informative, but fun to read. Inevitably, writers with some ability have been influenced by authors or journalists whom they admire. In your case, who would those people be?
I have been in love with writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been creative, but I wasn’t particularly gifted in drawing or painting (my art teachers made that quite clear), so I was left with music and writing. It started with poetry, then progressed to prose and eventually, that artful style imbued my everyday writing technique.
I’m a big fan of Shakespeare and John Steinbeck, but give a bulk of the credit to my mom, as well as my 8th grade English teacher, Mr. Builta. They encouraged me to pursue writing and, to an impressionable teenager, a little encouragement goes a long way. My writing style gave me grief in college because my professors felt I used too many “emotionally-charged” words, whatever that means. If words aren’t a vehicle for emotion, what’s the point? Even academics should invoke some sort of passion! After all, the root of an idea is a feeling. But, to me, that’s what makes words so special; they can heal or hurt, teach and inspire, unite or divide, and once they are spoken, they cannot be taken back.
My latest endeavor is my website: TXTrendyChick.com. I’m an eclectic individual, so I’ve dedicated this site to my ADD. You’ll find politics, fashion, food, music and more there. One of my goals for 2011 is to make writing a higher priority. It’s so easy to get bogged down in mundane tasks, jobs and chores, so I am going to try using writing as another means of procrastination.
4. It’s time we brought this question back! (It is one of my favorite ones to pose in this column, although I’ve let it slide the last couple of times.) When in life did you realize that you are a conservative and how does conservatism apply in the real world?
When I was 24, I had a job I absolutely loved and one of the many reasons for that was the salary plus commission pay structure. At the ripe ol’ age of 25, I filed my taxes, only for Uncle Sam to tell me I owed him another four digits. The best word to describe the moment of understanding I’d been moved up a tax bracket is “outrage”. I busted my tail for 60+ hours a week and earned every penny of that paycheck! After frustrated tears and my father welcoming me to the Republican Party, I sucked it up and wrote that check, but I didn’t do it quietly. I went to my local Tea Party protest that Tax Day mad as all get out and I wanted everyone to know it.
The principles of conservatism apply in every facet of life. If you consider where the government is in your life, you’ll find it’s everywhere: in your car, your job, your fridge, your kid’s school and your doctor’s office. If it’s not being taxed, it’s being regulated, or more than likely it’s being taxed AND regulated. I absolutely refuse to believe that a bloated, inefficient bureaucracy knows what’s better for me than I do. Moreover, I simply cannot trust any government that allows agencies to get their kicks out of feeling up grandmas. Small government, individual liberty, and lower taxes – what’s not to love? Wait, what’s that you say? The handouts? Yah, get out.
5. You work for Smart Girl Politics, which has become recognized in the last couple of years as a leading grassroots-oriented organization, dedicated to advancing the conservative message. What is your role there and what do your responsibilities involve?
Smart Girl Politics is most assuredly one of the greatest things to ever happen to me. Remember that Tea Party I told you about in #4? Well, SGP found me there holding my homemade sign that read “Welcome to the USSA”, complete with the Obama “O” graphics. After I was told my picture may be on their website, I hopped online the next day to see how exactly I was being portrayed to the free world. I didn’t find my picture on that site, but I found my political voice.
Today, I am so proud to serve as SGP’s Director of Activist Training and we are currently putting together a curriculum and materials for a revamped SGP101 online training course, fulfilling the commitment to educate, engage, and empower women to get involved politically. Once we have the online classes up and running, we’re taking our message offline to women across the country.
6. How does your Christian faith impact the choices you make in life, both personally and in the public square?
When I was 17, I was in a car wreck that should have cost me my life, but God was gracious and gave me a second chance. It was then that I was led to Jeremiah 29:11 and accepted Christ.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” -Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
My education at Baylor only strengthened my faith and I was glad to have the formal education and discussions about the Bible and its history and my beliefs that my time at Baylor offered me. My faith personally has allowed me to forgive others, but more importantly it has given me the ability to forgive myself. There have been several events in my life that have seemed insurmountable on my own, but because I believe God is always with me and will help if I am willing to listen, I have persevered and overcome.
Publicly, my faith in Christ has been responsible for most of my opinions and perceptions. God certainly did not put me on this earth to judge people – that’s His job. When it comes to controversial issues such as gay marriage or abortion, I only know what is and isn’t right for me. Who am I to say what is or isn’t right for you? Your decisions are between you and The Big Guy Upstairs. So my faith puts me in that awkward position of not being for or against those kinds of things when they are painted with a broad brush, which is why I am thoroughly convinced that such matters should be handled on a state level. If you don’t like the way your state is situated on the issue, you have 49 others to choose from!
7. You knew it was coming! We want to know your favorites: Books, music, movies, foods, hobbies…and throw in a couple of surprises for us.
This is my favorite question! I developed a love for reading in college, particularly in my Modern China class which assigned what has become my favorite book: Life and Death in Shanghai, by Nien Cheng. She was imprisoned and tortured during the Cultural Revolution because she believed in individualism, capitalism and Christ. Currently I’m making my way through Atlas Shrugged with my 20-year old brother. When I need a break from that, I’ll pick up The Brink, by Mark Fadden or (Who am I kidding?) Harry Potter, for the umpteenth time.
Music is something that is near and dear to me. I find that there is a song and lyric for every season in life. Whatever you feel can be manifested in a chord, note or tempo. I will never forget the way I felt when I experienced my first opera or played my first piece of Beethoven from memory. Don’t let that fool you; my favorite band of all time is Metallica and Garth Brooks at The Wynn was my favorite of the 30-something concerts I’ve attended.
If you really want to see me passionate about something non-political, let’s talk about food. You know how, when girls get excited, they talk faster and more animatedly? Well, that’s me when it comes to culinary indulgences. I plan trips around restaurants and my week around home-cooked meals. My favorite date nights with my boyfriend are going to the grocery store, picking out ingredients for dinner and cooking it together over a bottle of wine.
I fell in love with food when I studied abroad in Spain. As soon as I was out of my comfort zone of chicken nuggets and turkey sandwiches, I realized there was a great big world just waiting for me to eat my way around it!
8. Who/what are 3 influences in your life that have shaped the person you are today?
As a little kid, I was painfully shy. I went to a small, private school where everyone knew everyone practically from birth, so it’s not like I ever really had to be socially outgoing to make friends. When I was 15, I transferred to public school and it was the biggest shock of my life. I went from a class of 33 to a class of 550, from knowing everyone to knowing absolutely no one. With the help of some really sweet people, I got involved in some social groups and even landed a spot on the track team. I learned how to make friends, how to love being in front of people, and to put myself out there, even if it meant inevitably failing. Those three years I didn’t learn much academically, but it was the best social education I could have asked for.December 25, 2001 was a day that forever changed my life. Only a few short months after 9/11, I can only imagine the trepidation my parents must have felt putting a particular gift under the tree for me: I was going to study abroad in Spain. I had been taught Spanish from the time I was 5 and wanted to go to Spain since the 5th grade when I did a report on bull fighting. During my time there, I not only came to appreciate another culture, foods, and fashion, but I learned what it was like to not have my family in the next room. I never figured out the silly metro, but I was pretty good at the Euro by the time I left!
Undoubtedly the most powerful influence thus far in my life is August of 2007. Three life-altering events happened within a span of 48 hours: Two of my three brothers were on ventilators and I left a failed marriage. The youngest of the three brothers was in Utah with friends, but after flu-like symptoms were enough to take him to a local hospital, it was recommended he be flown home immediately. It wasn’t more than 12 hours after he landed that he could no longer breathe on his own. He was fighting what was later diagnosed as the Hantavirus, an infection with a 50% mortality rate. Meanwhile, in Chester, PA, the second brother served as a volunteer firefighter and, the very same night, was called to a structure fire. The structure collapsed, burying him under debris, furniture, and flames; he was pulled out several minutes later sustaining 3rd degree burns over 50% of his body. As if all of that wasn’t enough, I was also trying to process the fact that what I had hoped would be a long, happy marriage would never amount to anything more than utter failure. It was during this time that I realized the strength in family and the power of prayer. I grew up overnight; what other choice did I have?
9. What are 3 goals in your life that remain unrealized that, in this land of opportunity, have a chance (no matter how slight) of happening?
I have every intention of running a marathon before I’m 30, so I have a couple more years before that deadline comes up. Perhaps a bit further out on the plausibility scale, I would love to write a novel. There are a few ideas I’ve been sitting on, so as soon as I have some time to sit down and put pen to paper, I’ll find out if there’s a publisher out there crazy enough to take a chance on me! Ultimately, I want to get my Ph.D. in American History. My undergraduate was essentially Chinese history and I need a Masters before the Doctorate, so that could be Modern European History. I think if I could walk around as a human history encyclopedia, I could be the happiest person on earth.
10. Congratulations are in order! Your Internet radio show with FTR (From the Right) Radio debuted last Tuesday. What is the time slot each week, where can folks find you and what are your plans for direction and focus?
Thanks! I am so excited and honored to be a member of the FTR family. Over the last couple of years, the right has targeted some major demographics with the Mama Grizzlies, home owners, business owners, and even senior citizens to some extent, but I don’t fit in any of those categories. It became clear to me that most of my peers felt the same way about the right neglecting 18-35 year olds, while the left pandered to them. That was when I knew I had to do something about it and the lovely folks at From The Right Radio were there to support my idea.
Every Tuesday night at 9pm Eastern/6pm Pacific, you can hear the Texas Trendy Chick Show, also known as TTC on FTR. My primary objective is to give new conservatives a place to hammer out the issues and to know they aren’t alone. My approach here is the same as my blog: keep it honest, yet light. It’s politics for the first half hour and pop culture for the second. Just go to http://www.ftrradio.com and click on the “Listen and Chat” button in the upper left-hand corner of the screen or download the free podcast from iTunes.