Why Your voice and Your Feet and Your Vote CountI’m writing on Tuesday, Aug. 9, the day of the primary elections in Minnesota, and I’m feeling nostalgic about times in our democracy that …
Why Your voice and Your Feet and Your Vote Count
I’m writing on Tuesday, Aug. 9, the day of the primary elections in Minnesota, and I’m feeling nostalgic about times in our democracy that seemed better. That may be largely due to my selective and faulty memory. I realize that what I define as “better” means a higher level of citizen involvement, which typically is brought about by difficult times. We have had some fine people working to make a difference, serving our country in elected offices, and I’d like to prod our memories.
Today is the day in 1974 that Richard Nixon officially resigned from the presidency. Gerald Ford was sworn in, the only U.S. president to never have been elected president or vice-president. When VP Spiro Agnew had resigned the previous year due to another scandal, Nixon chose Ford to fill the role. Ford spoke to the nation saying, “This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts. My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”
Last week I watched a documentary about Robert and Ethel Kennedy, a well-told story about their loving commitment to each other, their large family, and their country, proof that a Democrat and Republican really can work things out. Ethel grew up in the fun-loving, Republican Skakal family, which nurtured her non-conformity and prankish sense of humor. She was known for some outrageous behavior which apparently kept Robert from disappearing entirely into his serious, introspective self. Both families of origin were Catholic and wealthy with lots of children, athletic activities, political convictions, and dogs (as many as 19.) Ethel became a staunch Democrat, supporting her husband throughout his career and honoring him after he was assassinated with the creation of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and other political activism.
Robert Kennedy said, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Reliving the painful memories of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, I remembered how my heart hurt with every new atrocity, despair accumulating into a belief that each of us needs to do whatever we can to keep our democracy alive along with a passion to support good, ethical, smart, progressive men and women who had the guts to run for office.
Last week I did some door knocking for Grant Hauschild, who is running for the MN Senate to fill Tom Bakk’s seat. He has worked on rural economic development for the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) assisting with administering grants and loans for rural small businesses, energy cooperatives, broadband expansion projects, and rural housing projects. As a political director in the U.S. Senate, he helped draft U.S. Postal Reform legislation to keep our rural mail service intact. Grant is currently a Hermantown city councilor and the Executive Director of Essentia Foundation, raising money for patients and families who can’t afford the costs of their care.
Given a list of 10 things to do of an evening, door knocking would not be at the top of my list, and I’m in good company, so it’s like pulling hen’s teeth to get volunteers willing to go out and talk with people. I will not lie and say I experienced an epiphany, loving the task, but I felt it was important to bite the bullet and do what I could to promote progressive candidates in these very critical midterm elections.
As I knocked on doors and offered literature, introducing Grant and his positions to people, it was very clear that most people were very fuzzy about anything political and unaware that there was a primary election this week. No one had heard of Grant yet, although a couple people assured me that they would vote a straight Democratic ticket in November. Several spoke to me through a background of secondhand smoke, alcohol fumes, and television with confusion and disinterest dominant. Ingrained Midwestern politeness kept anyone from telling me to leave but neither did they ask many questions. I asked each person what they were most concerned about; several said, “Everything,” and one answered, “The Democrats.” Asked why the Democrats concerned him, he said, “They’ve been controlling the country since Lincoln was assassinated, and they were in on that,” adding, “And they stole the election!” I did manage to suggest he might seek more reliable news sources and asked if he was aware that the Democrats were responsible for the creation of Medicare and Social Security, quite certain he was probably benefitting from both. He responded, “I don’t believe any of that.” He was the only one who closed the door in my face, so maybe he was from out East.
That sampling of disinterest in and detachment from the world of democratic activities made it crystal clear why my voice, feet, and vote –– and yours –– are so critical. Precisely because others are not informed or paying attention, (and the percentages may be identical to those of the 60s and 70s,) the responsibility and impact of those who are is multiplied.
Richard Kehlenberg, a fellow at the The Century Foundation, researched Robert Kennedy’s ability to “appeal to working-class white and black voters and achieve a remarkable political coalition in time of strong political antagonism between the groups.” Kehlenberg felt progressives today could learn from his example. Kennedy was a strong civil rights supporter and knew people from all sectors of the country needed to be involved in order to effect change. He was able to show that he sincerely cared about both groups by respecting their interests and legitimate values.
Kehlenberg wrote, “Unlike right-wing urban populists, he was inclusive of minority populations, and unlike today’s liberalism, Kennedy placed a priority on being inclusive of working-class whites. In short, he was a liberal without the elitism and a populist without the racism.”
In his abbreviated life, Kennedy showed the power and effectiveness of courage, conviction, authenticity, and persistence. He said, “There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks. They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed.”
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