Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Monday, August 27, 2012

How I Became a Democrat--and Why I've Remained One (Part III)

And I've showed my politics how?

When, at age 21, I began teaching seventh graders in Aurora, Ohio, I wore my liberal politics on my sleeve.  And on every other part of my clothing, as well.  And on my head and face.  (Long hair, moustache, sideburns.  Superior sneer at times.)

There was that McCarthy for President bumper sticker on my car.  And my vigorous lunch-room colloquies with like-minded colleagues--especially a couple of librarians, Donna (whose children I taught) and Doug, also age 21, who had just graduated from Kent and could match me, slogan for slogan.

Not all my colleagues were with me, of course--far from it.  Most notably: the math teacher Jim, an ex-Marine, who had a sympathetic heart (he loved kids and teaching) but whose training and experiences had led him to conclusions different from mine.  Oddly, we became and remained fast friends.

As I look back now on those years, I know I stepped over the line--or leaped over it.  The satiric plays I wrote with the middle schoolers each year and produced each spring were politically liberal.  Authorities were bad; protests were good.  The very first one (called The Founding of Aurora; or, The Grapes of Wrath, May 1967) featured a character named Lumber Brains Johnson (LBJ) and another called the Reverend Ku Klux.  Subtle.  And many of the parents in the audiences were, well, torn: It was great to see little Bonnie and Billy performing (My kids are so talented!), but the political aspects of the show were, well, troubling to some ... many?  One liberal parent told me that after one of the shows he nearly got into a fistfight out in the parking lot with another father who had said I was a bad influence on the kids.  I see on YouTube that parents brawl at Little League games--but middle school plays?  That's special.

Here's another example: In 1968, when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings about Vietnam policy were telecast, I took my little black-and-white set (with sexy rabbit ears) to class and had the kids watch, live, all the while annotating and commenting with my own (largely ignorant and wholly partisan) observations about the credulity and integrity of the liars who were testifying.  It is not a scene I recall with pride.

And I must say quickly that my anti-war stance was a very safe one.  Although I took and passed the physical for the military draft, I was classified 2-A, an occupational deferment.  There was a shortage of public teachers in those days, so public school teachers avoided the draft.  When that deferment vanished with the draft lottery that came along in 1970, my number (assigned by birthday) was scary: #46 out of #366.  Meaning: I would be called early in the draft.

But--I turned 26 in 1970, the cut-off age.  They were taking only 18-25-year-olds.  So I was safe.  And from my position of safety I could safely utter all sorts of safe anti-war sentiments and remain safely safe.  (My older brother had reached 26 before the draft, and my younger became a Conscientious Objector--a classification that deeply troubled our father.)

Many I knew were not so fortunate--or made other choices.  Two of my best friends from high school, Troy and Paul, went into the military.  Troy went to Vietnam, where he was seriously wounded (afterwards, I taught with him in Aurora and walked the picket line with him during our 1978 teachers' strike); Paul ended up in the Honor Guard in Washington, D. C., where he had to deal all the time with protesters.  I saw him in Washington in, oh, 1968 or so, when I was there with our 8th graders.  We had coffee in a diner and he talked with me about how horrible he felt about having to bear a weapon against his fellow citizens.  I was not close friends with anyone who died in Vietnam--but I knew more than a few.

Only moments before ...
Meanwhile, public events were becoming ever more alarming.  Before I started my third year of teaching, assassins had cut down both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy--the liberal hope for the 1968 presidential race.  (He'd pretty much wiped out McCarthy in the primaries--much to my chagrin.)  I just this moment remembered this: RFK had officially entered the race late (in mid-March, only after he'd seen the strength of McCarthy's anti-war message), a move that angered a lot on the left (like me).  And when I saw McCarthy up at Western Reserve University that summer, he arrived about an hour late--and said something like this: I'm sorry to be a bit late today ... but I'm not as late as Sen. Kennedy!  The crowd went nuts.

And in May 1970 ... the KSU shootings (which I've written about in an earlier post).

Things fall apart, wrote Yeats; the center cannot hold.  And in the late Sixties and early Seventies there was no real center--not any political one.

As the years passed, my commitment to liberal causes did not ever diminish.  But my proselytizing in school did.  By the end of my career, I virtually never talked about politics in class--although I had fine colleagues who did so, all the time.  I'm sure my students had no trouble inferring where I stood on things, and I would answer questions if they asked.  But they rarely did.  I'd realized that  students were, of course, a captive audience.  And I really shouldn't be preaching politics at them--my politics.  So I didn't.  Better late than never?

Besides, I had other audiences by then.  In 1982 I began writing monthly op-ed pieces for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and I would write about politics from time to time.  I was also publishing essays in magazines--though not in political ones.  I was ... what? ... broadening my interests.  And now, like everyone else, I have FB and a blog and Twitter ...

I have never been very active in official political events.  I've attended a few, donated some money.  I supported our son, a two-term (Democratic) Ohio legislator.  Out of office now, he remains active in Democratic Party causes in Ohio--especially in education.  But he's been far more animated politically than either his father or his mother.

But the issues I continue to believe in are the ones that, in general, the Democrats continue to promote and the Republicans continue to oppose.  A brief, not all-inclusive list of the issues that continue to concern me:

Civil Rights--I still believe we need to do more to assure fair treatment of racial and other minorities--employment, housing, and the like.  As Dickens once wrote, we're all on the same train, heading to the same terminal. Democrats have long fought to protect and extend civil rights.

Environment--We Americans waste and pollute at a rate that far exceeds any other people-- mostly because we can and because we've deluded ourselves into thinking that because there seems to be no short-term consequence, then there must not be any long-term ones, either.  Read Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.  Time after time, humans have wasted themselves right into collapse. Democrats have long fought to protect the environment.

Women's Rights--Equality of opportunity and pay.  Who can be opposed to this?  I've watched the principal women in my life (my mother, my wife) struggle mightily for decades against the various guises that Good Ol' Boys assume to stay in power.  Democrats have long fought for the rights of women.

Labor Unions--These organizations, to a great extent, made my wife's life possible.  (And mine and our son's, too.)  Her father worked for Firestone in Akron, and the salary and benefits he enjoyed allowed him and his family to live a middle-class life, allowed him to send his daughter to college, which she attended, by the way, with the help of a Firestone scholarship.  Of course there are corrupt union officials here and there (corruption, in case you haven't noticed, is an unwanted, uninvited guest attending every human institution--from the clergy to the Tour de France, from Tobacco Road to Wall Street), but my teachers' union helped me acquire health care and retirement benefits, sick leave, a decent wage, protection from arbitrary dismissal--and so much more.  The union did annoy me, deeply, from time to time ... but on balance?  No question.  It's been alarming for me to watch many Americans abandon their unions and to throw themselves on the "mercy" of their employers.  Democrats have long fought for unions and worker rights.

Health Care--This is a no-brainer.  As someone who's had enormous medical costs in recent years (prostate cancer and its multiple consequences), I know what it's like to see bills that are staggering in size--that would, if I had no insurance, bankrupt me.  We need to pool our resources for this because all of us, eventually, will use the health-care system.  And so we all need to help pay for it.  When I was young and healthy, my premiums helped other people; lately, it's been the reverse.  Democrats have long fought for universal health care.

Voting Rights--The Founding Fathers were frightened of universal suffrage, and that's why the Constitution originally limited voting rights to white, property-owning men.  Not good.  We need to find ways to get more people to the polls, not fewer.  Any attempt to diminish voter turnout--or to control who votes--is, to me, akin to treason.  Democrats have long fought to extend and preserve voting rights.

Public Education--Charter and private schools are okay by me--but we must have a great system of public education, as well.  And we don't.  Wealthy communities at least have a chance to have a good school.  But not impoverished areas.  Our current system of school funding pretty much assures that the poor and hopeless will stay that way.  Democrats have long fought to support public education.

Gay and Lesbian Rights--I've written about this before.  But we can't continue demonizing and denying basic human rights to our brothers and sisters, our friends, neighbors, and colleagues.  It's inhumane at the most profound and unforgivable level.  I grieve for the obstacles faced by so many who are dear to me--family members, friends, former colleagues, former students.  Democrats have long fought to support gay and lesbian rights.

There are so many others (war, government support for the arts and humanities, the right to choose, sensible regulations to keep businesses from behaving as if we're still in the era of trusts and monopolies and Robber Barons, the respect for science (not just technology), the need to improve higher education, sensible gun control, and on and on and on).

But this blog is now approaching the length, if nowhere near the artistry, of War and Peace.  So I'll stop.

Tomorrow--Why I'm going to vote to re-elect President Obama, even though some of his policies deeply trouble me.

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