I was just six years old when John F. Kennedy was elected to be the 35th president of the United States of America. It was a momentous event for my family, creating a sense of jubilance that had been …
I was just six years old when John F. Kennedy was elected to be the 35th president of the United States of America. It was a momentous event for my family, creating a sense of jubilance that had been absent ever since the death of my father a year before. My paternal grandfather was especially pleased because “Jack”, as Grandpa Mac called him, was “Irish, a Democrat and Catholic.” Grandpa explained that Kennedy’s victory was historic! He vividly described living through the time when employers hung signs that read, “Irish need not apply”. And Kennedy was the first Catholic to be elected to the White House! This was despite a concerted effort among several southern states to defeat him “just because they didn’t like his religion.”
For a little girl like me, President Kennedy was a young and handsome guy — so was my Dad. And Mrs. Kennedy had beautiful thick black hair — just like my Mom’s. So Grandpa was right. There was nothing not to like.
On the day of his inauguration, we were all plunked in front of the little black and white TV set to watch him lay his hand on the Bible and give an oath to uphold our Constitution. Per Grandpa’s direction, we patiently awaited his speech. This was my first introduction to the pomp and ceremony of this cherished national tradition. Without realizing it, from that day forward, I would be forever imprinted with an indescribable reverence for our democracy and unwavering interest in our government. It explains why tears flowed from my eyes the day I sat, glued to the television, watching the swearing-in of President Barack Obama! Thanks to my dear grandfather, I knew at my core that something historic was happening, right before my eyes, once again.
On Jan. 8, 1961, Kennedy’s inauguration escorted in a decade of demand for social change. A unique feature of the 1960’s was the coming-of-age of the “baby boom” generation. The number of births soared in the years immediately following the return of American GI’s who’d served their country through the course of World War Two. Ready to put the horror of war behind them, they sought the joy and excitement of creating families of their own. And there were plenty of would-be partners anxiously awaiting their return. As the jump rope rhyme went, “First came love. Then came marriage. Then came Bobby in the baby carriage.” Then Johnny, Linda, Joe, Sue, …. one after another, after another. There were lots of us!!
Our country felt the impact in ways never imagined. We grew up and hit the streets, ready to engage, inspired by the youngest president ever elected to the Oval Office. We’d cut our teeth on his most quoted words, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” We were on fire to make the world a better place.
In our early years, after WWII and the infamous dropping of the first atomic bombs, the threat of nuclear war became a perpetual concern. In addition, the ten year war in Vietnam that began in the early 60’s was a war with no clear purpose., and yet it continually escalated, drafting more and more young men of my generation into the U.S. Army. So arose the Peace Movement. Increased reporting on racial discrimination and violence against blacks and other people of color gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement, demanding that racial injustice no longer be tolerated. In 1963, women began locking arms to challenge the status quo of gender inequality. So arose the Feminist Movement, dedicated to picking up the quest for change where the Women’s Suffrage Movement of the early 1900’s left off once the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 secured their right to vote. And when air and water pollution reached undeniably dangerous levels in cities all across the country the Environmental Movement was born.
Our country is suffering now. The planet continues to struggle as the human population approaches eight billion. The costs to our economy due to more frequent record-breaking weather events and climate catastrophes are an ever-increasing concern. Racial and social discord are erupting in our cities while a global pandemic is racing through the nation ravaging everything we thought of as “normal daily life”. Amidst this chaos and uncertainty, we see our government flailing through the emergencies, unable to supply its citizens with consistent, accurate, and trustworthy guidance. And social institutions like the U.S. Postal Service, our school systems, and even our electoral process seem to be unraveling, just when we need them the most. The country is teetering on the brink.
A lot of people are working their proverbial tails off trying to save what we have spent generations building. No longer can we take anything for granted. But lo, there are a fair number of folks who either just want to complain, or mentally “check out” all together. Let me remind us. We might be facing the greatest crisis we’ve seen in the history of our country! With so many incoming threats, it’s easy to sink into despair. But then the words of John Kennedy come creeping in. “Ask not…..” So what do we do now? If here, JFK would be asking us to do something, anything, no matter how small it might seem. Something as simple as casting our vote in the upcoming election!
Voting is the single most important thing we can do right now! We need to recommit to our democracy — even when it “sucks”. Our vote “this time” may be the only way we can assure we will actually have a “next time”! And, you might be pleasantly surprised how good doing something can be! Please, don’t give up. Show up! It’s true. The whole world is watching.
For information on when, where and how to vote, go to www.sos.state.mn.us.