Given at Birmingham Unitarian Church on Sunday, November 13, 2016
1960 was a significant year in my life. First, I graduated from high school; second, I had a wonderful trip to the South, traveling by train from Los Angeles to Houston, and on to Baton Rouge. When we arrived in Houston, there was an air of anticipation—this was LBJ country, and this was the day the Democrats were selecting their presidential nominee. When word spread that JFK had won the nomination, a pall fell over the city. I had a personal preference for Jack Kennedy but commiserated with the local Texans.
I’ll back up here for a moment and mention that during my junior and senior years of high school, I worked part-time for my local representative in the California State Legislature. He happened to be the majority floor leader, pulled a few strings, and offered me a job working for the legislature for the 1961 session. So, I postponed college for a year, and had the remainder of that summer and all of fall available to work as a Young Democrat.
This was a time when the folks in tinsel town came out in droves to support the Kennedy/Johnson ticket. I remember the time we young Dems linked arms on the football field of East L A College; and, while we waited for Jack Kennedy, we stood at the foot of the stage and watched Peter Lawford, Louie Prima—who played a whale of a beautiful horn—and listened to Frank Sinatra sing. Then, there was Jack! As he passed by, we locked eyes for a couple seconds.
Of course, not all memories are positive. My friend, Lenore, and I and two guys drove to the L. A. Coliseum to stand outside, following a major sporting event, and hand out Kennedy/Johnson bumper stickers. Tons of people were pouring through the exits, and we were handing out loads of bumper stickers. Feeling good! Then, we started to hear some truly mean, unkind comments. For those not old enough to remember, Kennedy was a Catholic, and there was a tremendous uproar. Was this man going to listen to his cabinet, his generals, his political party—or, was he going to listen to the Pope? Hard to believe how significant an issue this was in 1960.
As we stood handing out bumper stickers, the names we were called made all of us uncomfortable, but Lenore was a Catholic—the hurt ran deep. Then, two big guys spouting vitriolic rhetoric came close and spat upon us. At the time, I thought things could not get much worse. — Fast forward 56 years to 2016. — Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong. For the first time in my life I was fearful about putting a sign in my yard supporting a candidate.
My spouse and I are currently in our 21st home, so we’ve definitely lived in a variety of neighborhoods over the past 53 years. This election year, however, is distinctly unique. I recently sent an email where I quoted FDR when he said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” After more than one sleepless night worrying about the election and the state of our nation, of our world, I knew I must work hard to remind myself to take that deep breath, to briefly meditate, to pray, to do whatever to keep the fear at bay. We still have so much to do to bring our very divided nation back together. We have to ensure that people remember what happened in Germany during the 1930s, how and why it happened. Otherwise, we are doomed to history repeating itself.
Howard Zinn said, “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something…. if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
So, take heart, my friends! Working together, we can make a difference. We can help heal our state, our nation, our world.