Canvassing Las Vegas, a Scary Moment Just Before Election Day

Sign on the gate 2 doors from the home of our Las Vegas trouble-maker.

“Get out of my neighborhood. I have guns! If you two don’t leave right now I’m gonna go get them.”

It was the Saturday before election day and we were canvassing in Las Vegas in a sprawling cookie-cutter development – not a fancy one – with “front yards” of sand, not grass.  Worn Halloween figures and flags hung on the doors; fake spider webs stuck stubbornly to doorways and bushes.  My son Dan and I had just arrived and this was our first block.  It was the weekend before his birthday but both of us were beyond anxious about the election and hoped that going door-to-door, even more than making calls, might ease our souls a bit; at least we were doing something.

A moment earlier we’d been joking with this same 30-something guy over the neighborhood Halloween decorations. He asked what we were doing walking along his block and Dan said “Just talking to people.” “What about,” he asked. “What are you talking to people about?” “Hillary Clinton” I said, smiling at him – (that almost always works.)

Not this time. As we moved beyond him and on up the street, he was still yelling. “Get out!  Get out!”  Shaken, we decided to move up a block and try the next house on our tally sheet but he and his friend were making their way toward us, his friend telling him to “do something about it” if  he was going to yell anyway.  We fled.

I’ve seen angry crowds before, including demonstrators and police in Chicago in 1968.  I’d seen reports of scary Trump rally crowds too.  But this single person, focused on us with such rage, was a different kind of scary.  My heart was pounding as if I’d had way too much coffee.  As that response ebbed, I just got sad.  And then sadder.  “This isn’t how our country is supposed to be.” I kept saying to Dan.  He, wisely, was more concerned about danger than he was with analyzing the social meaning of all this.  He has a two-year-old son and was unsettled more for him, and for his wife; he needed to stay safe for them.

That was wise, but for me, the cruelty and rage of these two men, who’d turned on a dime from “We all DO love our Halloween here” to “Get the fuck out of my neighborhood” was painful on so many levels.

They weren’t the only ones.  At least two more times, the response to our question: “Have you voted yet?” was “I don’t do Democrats.  Go away,” declared with icy affect and stone cold eyes.

Saturday afternoon, as we waited at headquarters for a new neighborhood assignment, we were visited by Gabby Giffords, and her husband Mark Kelly, as well as Lucy McBath, one of the Mothers of the Movement, a sad sisterhood of moms whose children, her son Jordan Davis among them, had been killed by police officers.  The combination of the realities faced by these people and their efforts to reenforce the critical nature of every vote we could pull out of our assigned areas was a reminder of all that is at stake in our country.

Enthusiastic volunteers wait for Gabby Gifford and husband Mark Kelly to address to the crowd.

Lucy McBath, one of the Mothers of the Movement. Her son was Jordan Davis

Here’s the thing though:

This anger didn’t arise on its own. It’s been enabled, and not just by Mr. Trump and his allies and followers. Not all the angry people we met lived in lesser circumstances, with less education and income, than the norm but they do live differently from the people who govern them – and the people who cover them.

Listen to Columnist Sarah Smarsh in The Guardian

sarah-smarsh-sized*  Earlier this year, primary exit polls revealed that Trump voters were, in fact, more affluent than most Americans, with a median household income of $72,000higher than that of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders supporterss.

*  Forty-four percent of them had college degrees, well above the national average of 33% among whites or 29% overall. . . .
These facts haven’t stopped pundits and journalists from pushing story after story about the white working class’s giddy embrace of a bloviating demagogue. . . .
*  The faces journalists do train the cameras on – hateful ones screaming sexist vitriol next to Confederate flags – must receive coverage but do not speak for the communities I know well.
*  One-dimensional stereotypes fester where journalism fails to tread. The last time I saw my native class receive substantial focus, before now, was over 20 years ago – not in the news but on the television show Roseanne, the fictional storylines of which remain more accurate than the musings of comfortable commentators in New York studios.

* In lieu of such coverage, media makers cast the white working class as a monolith and imply an old, treacherous story convenient to capitalism: that the poor are dangerous idiots.

Sure political passions on both sides are self-defined far differently than they’re defined from the outside. But if those who cover non-elites never go near them except to write about them; if they’re described more through sociology than personal stories, oddities instead of neighbors, the divisions we’ve experienced in this election will not ease.

We don’t go to the same schools, we don’t live in the same neighborhoods, we don’t share military/non-military histories and we don’t agree on politics. We also don’t have access to simple exchanges: in the carpool line, as room parents or scout leaders, at the supermarket or the gas station, at the playground or even at neighborhood Halloween events.

I grew up in a steel town on the Monongahela River.  I was the lawyer’s daughter; when we graduated I went to an Ivy League college that almost no one in my community had even heard of.  Several of the kids from my high school who went to college did so by joining the Army.  Because of Viet Nam, many of them never made it home to enroll.

We all went to the same dances and football games though, and parties in each other’s homes.  I know – know – that every day that I spent as a journalist I did a better job because I’d grown up among so many different kinds of kids, even though it was always clear my future was going to be different from many of theirs.

We need to be able to depend on journalists to translate a bit for us and right now that doesn’t happen enough. Of course no American should threaten another with a gun.  Of course not.  But we also need to be able to expect from those who deliver information to us that they’ve gone beyond their own experiences to learn how others live- and to share that understanding with the rest of us.

Big Birthday Memory #17: They Will Campaign Against Us Until We’re All Dead – and Maybe After

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from July 9, 2008

From the day Richard Nixon was nominated in 1968 until Tuesday afternoon, forty years later, when John McCain began running this “Love” commercial, Republicans have been running against us.  All of us who share a history of opposing the Vietnam war and working to elect an anti-war president.  Against everything we ever were, believed, dreamed, voted for, marched against, volunteered to change, spoke about, created, sang, wrote, painted, sculpted or said to one another on the subway or the campus or anyplace else from preschool parent nights to Seders to the line at the supermarket.

How is it possible that what we tried to do is still the last best hope to elect a Republican?  They used it against John Kerry.  They used it against Max Cleland.  They did it every time (well, almost) they were losing policy battles in the Clinton years.  They called CSPAN and said unspeakable things.   And now they are using the history of people my side of sixty to run against a man who was, if my math is right, seven years old during this notorious “summer of love” which – I might add, had nothing to do with those of us working to end the war.  In fact, there were two strands of rebellion in those years.  The Summer of Love/Woodstock folks and the political, anti-war activists.

Leary_nyt_cropped_2At the 1967 National Student Association Convention in Maryland, I saw a room full of students boo Timothy Leary off the stage, literally.  We didn’t want to “turn on, tune in, drop out” we wanted to organize against the war.   The anti-war movement was not a party.  I know that’s not a bulletin but it is so hard to see all of us reduced to a single mistaken stereotype.  Those who chose to find a personal solution weren’t nuts; communes and home-made bread were a lot more immediate gratification than march after march, teach-in after teach-in, speech after speech.  “If you’re goin’ to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”  Tempting, romantic – and not us.

Even more painful is the fact that the cultural and political divide is still so intense that research (I assume) told the McCain guys that this commercial would work.  That our patriotic, committed efforts to change our country’s path, and the cultural alienation that drove others toward the streets of San Francisco, combine to become a stronger motivator than all the desperate issues we face today, this side of those 40 years.  Perhaps even worse, these Bush years have dismantled so many of the successes we did have, so that in addition to facing, yet again, this smear against the activism of 1968 (and I repeat, that wasforty years ago — longer than most of the bloggers I know have been alive) there’s the awareness of what we did that has been undone.

I need to say here that I grew up on the shores of the Monongehela River in Pittsburgh and my classmates were kids who mostly went into
the steel mills or the Army after high school.  I knew plenty of supporters of the war.  I went to prom and hung out at the Dairy Queen with them.  But it never occurred to me to demonize them, to hold against them their definition of patriotism.

I’m not writing off or looking down upon those who did support the war; I’m saying that this cynical, craven abuse of the devotion of people on
both sides to the future of their country is reprehensible and precisely the kind of behavior that has broken the hearts of so many Americans, on those both sides of the political spectrum, who just want their candidates to lead us in hope for what our country can be, not defame others whose dreams aren’t quite the same as theirs.

Big Birthday Memory #16: (More 1968) Obama, Clinton, New Hampshire And Primaries – 1968 And 2008

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from January 8, 2008.

McCarthy and Cindy wide2In the 1968 New Hampshire primary, 40 years ago, Senator Eugene McCarthy got 42% of the vote running against Lyndon Johnson .

That was enough to be viewed as a win, since no one thought he’d get anywhere close to those numbers.  That  victory by the only national politician with the guts to run against the Vietnam War sent a shock through the Democratic Party.

McCarthy’s effort, often called “The Children’s Crusade,” was comprised largely of college students (including me) who abandoned their studies to come to New Hampshire and work to help to stop the war.  Now, as I watch Barack Obama, and see the the numbers of young people propelling his success, I know just how they feel — and what awaits them if they fail. 

Then too, win or lose, things will be tough for Senator Clinton. Obama, seen not only as a change agent but also as someone who offe

That’s exactly what happened in 1968.  The New Hampshire victory brought Robert Kennedy into the race – establishing, until his tragic death, a three-way battle – two dissidents against the juggernaut of the Democratic establishment.  Then later, Hubert Humphrey, candidate of that establishment and for years, as Vice President, public and energetic supporter of Johnson’s war, won the nomination.

To all of us, he had stolen the nomination.  Many (not me) were so bitter that they refused to vote for him.  (2016 NOTE: Let’s not let this happen again! That reluctance led to the election of Richard Nixon and all that followed.  Think how different things would be…) Remember, for most of us, as for many of Obama’s young supporters, this was our first presidential campaign.  Hillary Clinton, should she prevail further down the line, will face the same broken-hearted campaigners.  Once the anti-establishment, anti-war student and Watergate hearing staffer, in the eyes of these young people she’ll be cast as the villain.


For evidence of how long that bitterness lasts, take a look at this quote from the American Journalism Review, from the 1968 Chicago Convention recollections of veteran Washington Post columnist  David Broder.  It’s about me – but it’s also about any young American who takes a stand and loses .

He recalls coming into the hotel lobby from the park where demonstrations were underway and spotting a woman he had first met during the Eugene McCarthy campaign in New Hampshire. “Her name was Cindy Samuels,” Broder still remembers. “She was seated on a bench crying. She had been gassed. I went over and I put my arm around her and I said: ‘Cindy. What can I do for you?’ She looked up at me with tears on her face and said: ‘Change things.’

NOTE:  As I searched for links for this post I found a David Corn piece saying much the same thing.  I want to take note of it since the ideas came to me independently but I didn’t want it to seem that I drew from his.

Big Birthday Memory #8: In Honor of Indiana and Donald Trump (Pigs, Lipstick, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin And The Movies: “Bob Roberts”, “A Face In The Crowd” And Willie Stark)

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from September 10, 2008.  This post appears now because it’s about demagogues and politics and the Indiana primary is today.

Of course by now we’ve all seen this.

I wrote much of what appears below without knowing just how to begin it – and those wacky Republicans solved my problem.  The response to this boilerplate Obama statement was to issue a vicious attack accusing him of sexism because of Palin’s convention speech “lipstick/hockey mom/pitbull” quote.  This despite the fact that the metaphor has often been used by Republicans including Dick Cheney – to say nothing of John McCain – look here:

The McCain campaign, not only in its choice of Sarah Palin but in how they use her, is leaning on very scary  tactics that are similar to the successful exploitation of voters illustrated by some of the most memorable characters in American political films.  Watch this trailer for Tim Robbins’ Bob Roberts; see if it isn’t more familiar than you wish:

Creepy, isn’t it?  A demagogue making his way to the top by lying about his opponent and manipulating the alienation of the American people for his own ends.  That could never happen in real life, right?

Much, much earlier in film history, the beloved Andy Griffithplayed one of the scariest public personalities ever in A Face in the Crowd — written by Budd Schulberg and directed by On the Waterfront‘s Elia Kazan.  He’s not a politician but watch the trailer and see if it doesn’t seem familiar.  You have to watch until the end to get the full impact.

It’s so depressing — and enraging — to watch this campaign peddling pseudo-folksiness to win over its public.  It’s time for that to stop working in our country.  Stakes are too high to permit us (or the press) to fall for the most  approachable (and least honest) over the most excellent.

Finally, remember Robert Penn Warren’s remarkable novel, clearly based on Louisiana’s Huey LongAll the King’s Men?  It portrays a politician on his path to becoming a dangerous demagogue.  Yeah, I know it’s melodramatic but does it feel at all familiar?

Clearly we should consider these archetypal characters as cautionary tales; instructive representations of our future if we allow this kind of campaigning to prevail.  Movies are our largest export (unless video games have taken over while I wasn’t looking)  and often reflect, if not our truths, at least our ghosts, shadows and neuroses.  It gave us The Body Snatchers in the 50’s, Easy Rider in the 60’s and Working Girl and Wall Street in the 80’s.  It’s easy to be seductive, to manipulate language and truth; easy to pretend to be one of the people in order to win them. The vicious, craven strategies of this campaign – and Sarah Palin herself – are  perfect examples; John McCain, whom I used to admire, has allowed, no encouraged, this shameful campaigning in his name and surrendered all the positions of principal that he once held.  If we don’t want (another) Bob Roberts (He does remind me of GWBush) or a cynical populist pretender or a MS Wilie Stark as our government, it’s up to use to exercise vigilance and fierce commitment to fight off these transparent manipulations and to ensure that it does not happen.

Sixty Years Ago: The Ballad of Momma Rosa Parks

 Rosa Parks

I’ve tried everywhere to find audio or video of this wonderful song.  I know it exists because I used to play it with my kids*.  Even without the music though, it’s great.  So on this anniversary, with honor, admiration — and awe:

The Ballad of Momma Rosa Parks
(Nick Venet and Buddy Mize, 1963)

In nineteen hundred and fifty-five,
In a southern American town,
A tired colored lady got on a city bus
And immediately sat down,
With a closed mind and an opened mouth
The big bus driver got rough
And told his only passenger
To move to the back of the bus.

cho: When Momma Parks sat down,
     The whole world stood up,
     What's good for one is good for all,
     It's good for all of us.

The lady's name was Momma Rosa Parks,
A hard workin' woman indeed,
She was goin' home, 'twas her goin' time,
She had little hungry mouths to feed,
She wasn't botherin' nobody
And doin' nothin' wrong,
By the Lord's rules of love
When Momma Parks sat down
The whole world stood up.

printed in "Songs of Peace, Freedom and Protest" by Tom Glazer 
(1970, David McKay Company)

*If you know where I can find it please let me know!

Trump, Kennedy, Kemp and Les Miz (and Maybe Paris)

Donald_Trump_Laconia smDonald Trump is important.  Maybe he’s channeling Huey Long, maybe Lonesome Rhodes, maybe just “the Donald,” but despite his xenophobia and thinly veiled racist take on immigrants, he has spun a new American dream and captured those who have been without one for a long time.

Despite those excluded, whom Ta-Nehesi Coates describes so well, the belief that the dream exists is a gigantic part of the American story even though, for many, it’s faded from view. Today, in the shadow of the attacks in Paris, I wonder whether his message will thrive or wither in the face of such horror and fear.

Jack KempTeddy Kennedy smWith all that in mind, what does Trump have to do with John Valjean? What did the story mean to Jack Kemp (there’s a new biography ) and Teddy Kennedy (there’s a new book about him, too) both of whom, from opposite parties and ideologies, saw Les Miz multiple times? Can what spoke to them teach or maybe comfort us as we recoil from another bloody revolution in the streets of Paris?  Tell me that this* is not what they – and we – are feeling today.

dan kidThis little boy is now a father, but when he was six, we took him, along with his brother, to see Les Miz. At the end, he dissolved in my lap in tears, a wise child who understood, as so many do, especiallu today, what we may have lost and must struggle to recover? Listen and then, you decide.

*When Les Miz opened in New York, both Teddy Kennedy and Jack Kemp saw it multiple times. It might have been about a revolution, but it was everyone’s revolution:

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?

Then join in the fight that will give you
The right to be free!

Robert Altman’s 40-Year-Old “Nashville,” Keith Carradine, Lily Tomlin and a Song

Robert Altman‘s Nashville is a perfect movie. This very sexy song from the film, written and performed by Keith Carradine (currently playing Madame Secretary‘s (CBS) boss, the President of the United States) won the best original song Oscar in 1976.*

He is singing to Lily Tomlin, who plays a white gospel singer with two deaf children; despite her marriage, she is as isolated as the metaphor suggests.  Their attraction is clear and heady: as he addresses his performance to her it’s clear they will find a time  – just once – to be together.  It’s a lovely moment in a harsh story.

The film is political, angry and brilliant.  It would be remarkably relevant today; you could say the demagoguery and tea-party-like characters were “ripped from the headlines” if the film weren’t 40 years old.   See for yourself; in addition to a wonderful film, you’ll get to see Carradine and Tomlin knock your socks off.


*This iconic 1979 winner from Norma Rae , “It Goes Like It Goes”, never really got the attention it deserved either – and in some ways they’re so similar.

John Kennedy, Barack Obama, 2 Inaugurations and 2 Generations of Dreamers REDUX

JFK Inaugural tickets

I wrote this piece right before the Obama Inauguration.  This, the 51st anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination, seems like a good day to share it again.

I seem to be living in the WayBack Machine this year.  Lots of memoriesof 1968 and even 1963.  Now as January 20, 2009 approaches, yet anotherlooms.  January 20, certainly, but in 1961.

See that crowd?  Somewhere, way in the back, probably at least a block beyond, stand an almost-fifteen-year-old girl and her mother.  Fresh off an overnight train from Pittsburgh, having arrived at Union Station in time to watch the Army flame-throwers melt a blizzard’s worth of snowon the streets of the inaugural route, they make their way to their parade seats: in the bleachers, way down near the Treasure Building.

I spent most of 1960 besotted with John Kennedy.  And Jackie.  And Caroline.  And all the other Kennedys who came with them.  Most of my lunch money went to bus fare as, after school, I shuttled  back and forth “to town” to volunteer in the local JFK headquarters.  I even had a scrapbook of clippings about Kennedy and his family.

So.  My parents surprised me with these two parade tickets.  My mom and I took the overnight train and arrived around dawn Inauguration morning.  We couldn’t get into the swearing-in itself, of course, so we went to a bar that served breakfast (at least that’s how I remember it) and watched the speech on their TV, then made our way along the snowy sidewalks to our seats, arriving in time to watch the new president and his wife roll by, to see his Honor Guard, the last time it would be comprised solely of white men (since Kennedy ordered their integrationsoon after,) in time to see the floats and the Cabinet members and the bands and the batons.

It was very cold.  We had no thermos, no blankets, nothing extra, and my mom, God bless her, never insisted that we go in for a break, never complained or made me feel anything but thrilled.  Which I was.   As the parade drew to a close, and the light faded, we stumbled down the bleachers, half-frozen, and walked the few blocks to the White House fence. I stood there, as close to the fence as I am now to my keyboard, and watched our new president enter the White House for the first time as Commander in Chief.

That was half a century ago.  I can’t say it feels like yesterday, but it remains a formidable and cherished memory.  It was also a defining lesson on how to be a parent; it took enormous love and respect to decide to do this for me.  I was such a kid – they could have treated my devotion like a rock star crush; so young, they could have decided I would “appreciate it more” next time.  (Of course there was no next time.)   Instead, they gave me what really was the lifetime gift of being a part of history.  And showed me that my political commitment had value – enough value to merit such an adventure.

Who’s to say if I would have ended up an activist (I did)- and then a journalist (I did) – without those memories.  If I would have continued to act within the system rather than try to destroy it. (I did)  If I would have been the mom who took kids to Europe, brought them along on news assignments to Inaugurations and royal weddings and green room visits with the Mets (Yup, I did.)  I had learned to honor the interests and dreams of my children the way my parents had honored my own.  So it’s hard for me to tell parents now to stay home.

My good friend, the wise and gifted PunditMom, advises “those with little children” to skip it, and since strollers and backpacks are banned for security reasons, I’m sure she’s right.*  But if you’ve got a dreamer in your house, a young adult who has become a true citizen because of this election, I’d try to come.  After all, he’s their guy.  What he does will touch their lives far more than it will ours.  Being part of this beginning may determine their willingness to accept the tough sacrifices he asks of them – at least that – and probably, also help to build their roles as citizens – as Americans – for the rest of their lives.  Oh — and will tell them that, despite curfews and learner’s permits, parental limit-setting and screaming battles, their parents see them as thinking, wise and effective people who will, as our new President promised them, help to change the world.

*I know, I thought of Christina-Taylor Greene as I re-read this too.

This post also appears in PunditMom’s Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media Are Revolutionizing Politics in America


Facing the Political Future: a Sadly Personal Perspective

Harold Ickes

I’ve been hiding from the news, which is weird since I spent most of my life as a journalist.  I’m not sure though, that after 8 agonizing years of W and then 6 frustrating ones with President Obama (much of it not his fault) I can face what the next congress will do.

Do you remember the various, endless Clinton hearings?  Even more than the impeachment battle, the moment that I keep remembering was deeply personal: Sen. Alphonse D’Amato questioning Deputy Chief of Staff (and my longtime friend) Harold Ickes, whose father, also Harold, had been Secretary of the Interior in the Roosevelt Administration, and credited with implementation of much of the New Deal.

His father, D’Amato told Harold, would have been ashamed of him.

I had worked with Harold when we were all young, so along with political anger came real pain that, beyond the issues, he had faced such very cruel personal grandstanding.

That’s not important in policy terms and is probably mild compared to the harshness that any witnesses at the pending, inevitable deluge of hearings under a Republican congress will face: two years of destructive power escalating the politics of obstruction to that of destruction.  Beyond what that will mean to our country, poor people, women, immigrants, ACA users, voting rights, Supreme Court nominations,  and the jeopardy we face around the world, none of which will receive much attention except as political weapons, it’s just not something that will be easy to watch, especially for an unrepentant dreamer like me.

A Quick Trip with Leonard Cohen

I can see the room.  It’s a little scruffy and smells like pot and incense. (Yes that’s a cliche but there you are.)  There’s a mattress on the floor, crazy Berkeley posters on the wall, a turntable and speakers, one window over the bed, another on the long wall.  Lots of bookcases, record albums, a coffee grinder for stems and seeds, a big old stuffed chair, and us.

It was a long time ago.  Hasn’t crossed my mind in years.  Then, right there, on the Spotify singer-songwriter channel, comes a young Leonard Cohen singing this:

Music is dangerous.  Suddenly I was back in Massachusetts almost half a century ago, when Suzanne, and Sisters of Mercy too, were part of my lexicon, along with everything from Milord

to Ruby Tuesday

to Blowin’ in the Wind.

Years ago Garry Trudeau published a Doonesbury thta included the line “You’ve stolen the sound track of my life!”  I don’t remember the context but it’s disconcertinly accurate, as he usually is.   Every song is a movie of the past, running — sometimes joyously, sometimes with enormous sadness, in my head.

It was such a different time, full of righteous anger and, at the same time, joy at being alive, sometimes in love, always part of the changes taking place all around us, many at our instigation.

Now, as we face the rage and disappointment of many of our children and their peers, it’s kind of heartbreaking to look back with such nostalgia at a time that they clearly see as debauched and destructive and, even worse, egocentric and selfish.

It’s paricularly hard when these songs rise up, so transporting.  Everyone, if they’re lucky, has fond recollections of the younger times in their lives.  But for me, as the music carries me there, it was so much more.  Hope, freedom, equality, beauty, love and peace — every song an anthem moving us forward.  And  lovers in a scruffy dorm room, a little bit stoned, listening, and sometimes, singing along.