Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Respect for the Democratic Process

Robert F. Kennedy, 1968

I was ten in 1960. During my teens the country was in the Cold War, the Viet Nam War, and the Civil Rights War. It was a time of hippies, drugs, protests, riots, sit-ins and love-ins. I watched it all on TV, and read it in the papers, but it happened around me, not to me.

In my whole teenage life I didn't know a single person who did drugs. I was fairly with it, and I hung out with the popular crowd, but I was never offered alcohol or cigarettes--ever! By the time I met up with these challenges, I had the maturity and confidence to make my own choices. Peer pressure wasn't a factor by then.

The peer pressure I felt as a teen was actually for positive behavior. The kids I knew were working to save for college, participating in school extracurriculars hoping for scholarships, and trying to get decent grades. We cruised State and waved and honked at the boys, snuck out our windows occasionally and stayed out past curfew, but for the most part, my friends were solid. There was a girl that sat by me in Concert Choir who came to school every Monday with monkey bites all over her neck, and she smoked in the bathroom during lunch. She was the wildest girl I knew. The flower children were in other gardens.

I know there must have been some free love going on, but nobody bragged about it. A good reputation was important. There were two couples in my high school that had to get married, (quietly,) and a girl at church got pregnant, but it was all hush-hush. She went to live with her aunt for a year, and came home without a baby, so nobody knew for sure.

In my little bubble of a world, most mothers were home all day, and they were aware of what all the neighbor kids were doing. They would tell on us if we weren't behaving, kind of like the secret police. And if my mom found out, my dad would know by dinner time. There were consequences. I knew I would be accountable for my actions.

One time I sluffed school and walked to a neighboring hamburger place with some friends. My next-door neighbor saw me, and reported it immediately to my mom. Not good. Although I got away with a few things, I knew I was being watched over. I felt bugged, but I also felt protected.

The events that did make a lasting impression on me were political. It started with the assassination of Kennedy. Afterwards, I remember following the news about Viet Nam, and Civil Rights, hearing LBJ say he wouldn't run, and reading the speeches of Martin Luther King. I had a fabulous civics teacher who made me aware of current events, local politics and government. He was a Democrat, and I loved listening to his philosophies. I became an FDR groupie.

I was in college when Bobby Kennedy ran for president. Although I couldn't even vote yet, I went to a campus forum where he spoke. (I found out later that Dee was in charge of arranging that very rally.) I was swept away! I thought Bobby was the man to change the world. His speech was laced with local references and I marveled that he knew so much about our state and culture. When my dad teased me about my new candidate, and said speech writers had given him material, I was incensed! How could he suggest Robert Kennedy had spoken with a hidden agenda? It was spontaneous, from his heart! He knew what was important to me, and to America.

A few weeks later Martin Luther King was shot. It was shocking and upsetting. I felt sick inside. I heard about more riots and protests.

In June I was getting dressed when I heard the news on the radio that Robert Kennedy had been killed. I sat on my bed and cried. The sadness and evil in the world was shattering. Later that summer I watched Walter Cronkite at the Democratic Convention. The riots taking place around him brought him to tears. I was overwhelmed. It seemed to be an ugly time. But eventually democracy won out. The calamities of the era were finally quieted.

Of course, new troubles replaced them. Again, after Watergate, I was thrilled that democracy worked it's way through such a test. The country rights itself, and goes forward.

Those feelings have never left me. I love the political process. I love elections. I admire the courage of politicians even when I think they're idiots. It's thrilling to watch them and witness their belief in themselves and commitment to the country. I rant and rave at the press, but I watch and read anything they give me so I can draw my own conclusions. I'm infuriated by what they say, yet invigorated by their right to say it.

One of the African American politicos in Iowa last week commented on Barack Obama's victory
speech. With emotion he said he had seen kids in his youth stubbornly sitting in the whites-only seats at Woolworths, and to see how far Civil Rights has come--to have a Black candidate receiving cheers and respect--was a goose-bump moment for him.

I follow the political talk shows, the campaign blogs, the newspaper op-ed pieces, and I'm having a bunch of goose bump moments. I'm crossing over to the Republican side to support Mitt Romney. I hope I'll get a chance to actually cast a vote for the man I think is the best, a man I'd trust to lead our country.

If that candidacy can't go the distance, I'll cross right back and hold a banner for Barack Obama. I'll send in my $25 check, put a sticker on my bumper and follow every primary campaign. Mostly though, I'll count the blessings that make it possible for us to participate in finding the right man for the right season.

I wish I could be in New Hampshire and cast my vote. I appreciate the people standing out in the cold seeing that the process goes forward, vetting the candidates, and making them accountable to the regular people in the country.

My early 1960's training led to an addiction to politics. I'll be cheering all during this presidential election. It's my tribute to the leaders who turned bad situations in my youth into good conditions for my adulthood. I am occasionally reminded of the passion I felt watching JFK, RFK, MLK and even Walter Cronkite. They weren't perfect men, but they were committed to making a positive difference in a big way. I want to make a positive difference, even in a tiny way. That's the legacy of the 60's I want to pass on.


gab said...

Thanks for a little personal history lesson! You are a good example of an informed voter...

Stie: My Favorite Things said...

You are insipiring citizen. Way to be!

Bridget said...

I love history. It was fun reading about your memories of it.

I would be honored and thrilled for you to use me as an example in your talk! I only wish I could hear it.

marta said...

some days i think it would have been fun to live back then and see how the world and politics have evolved. i like that my parents are always educated and informed (and opinionated) too!

Rebecca said...

I, too rejoice, in our democracy. The ship does, indeed, right itself given enough time. I have always voted, since the first day I legally could so, but now I am paying much more attention to the rhetoric, the facts, reading more, listening more, discussing more than ever before. This time, especially, feels way too important not to.