Monday, August 4, 2014

Love & Politics Don't Mix

Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café always makes me laugh. Today it made me reminisce and reflect on political differences. As the saying goes, “Love and politics don’t mix.”

The story was about the 50’s-type life of Morley and her mother’s finally feeling empowered enough to express a political opinion that just happened to be the opposite of her husband’s. There was much fussing about who needed to take the sign down and whose was bigger. After some fuming and sign-size besting on the front lawn, the campaign was over with the election of the incumbent, and everything calmed down. But it never went back to the Father Knows Best atmosphere in the house. Mama had found her voice.

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, my house wasn’t exactly Leave It to Beaver. We were on the cusp of the feminist movement but at that time, women didn’t leave any footprints in the job force, newsroom or politics. Fathers went off to work and mother stayed home to take care of the kids. Exceptions to this were few and far between.

Politics was my father’s realm. In my memory he had always been a Democratic committeeman, the workhorse of the party. A committeeman knew everyone in the neighborhood and frequently knew more gossip than the women did. They knew who to call for street repairs, traffic tickets, bail money and other pressing problems. When they got help from a committeeman, the neighbors felt an obligation to the ruling party in elections. In Philadelphia, the victors were usually Democrats and the committeemen and Ward leaders worked hard before elections, visiting every house in their division, encouraging them to get out to vote for the Democratic candidate.

Enter JFK, MLK, the Hippie Age of peace and love, anti-war, civil rights marches.

I had seen candidate Kennedy with my own eyes as he rode down Roosevelt Blvd in his convertible, waving to the thousands of people who would eventually vote for him. The nation’s first Catholic president, he was huge in our overwhelmingly Catholic neighborhood. My father got to meet him in his capacity of committeeman and I thought that was magical. It was then I became interested in politics. Or at least I was more aware of the workings of politics in our community than most kids.

My awareness of politics piqued my interest in the civil rights movement and the anti-war protestors. I was inextricably connected via the folksongs touting peace. Songs from Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Simon & Garfunkel became the soundtrack of my life. I sang the songs, attended the rallies, picketed for Cesar Chavez and the grape pickers and generally subscribed to the politics of the anti-war movement. During this turbulent period, my father was elected to the State Legislature for our piece of Philadelphia. I gave out campaign literature, made phone calls, and got well acquainted with campaign maneuvers and politics in general. So when Frank Rizzo ran for mayor on the Democratic side in the 70’s, I figured the only reason he switched parties was that he knew a Republican would not stand a chance as a Mayoral candidate. Many saw through his political move. Rizzo had been the Philadelphia Police Commissioner and was notorious for his bullying, his racism, his brashness, and schmoozing of the city’s high-ranking politicians. I was not going to vote for him no matter what.

I managed to procure a Thatcher Longstreth sign (his opponent) and placed in proudly in my bedroom window. My father was not too pleased but once I explained my reasons for supporting Longstreth, he relented. Dad was all about the debate. He wanted to make you think about your positions and opinions. The poster was highly visible as my bedroom windows were facing 2 of the available 3 sides of the house, the sides where the most people would see them as they walked home from the bus stop or playground or corner store. The ward leader saw them too.

He gave my dad a hard time for supporting Rizzo’s opponent. Dad informed him that it was not he, but his daughter who was in favor of the Republican candidate. Dad listened to the ward leaders ranting, but when Mr. M. told him to take it down, Dad said NO. He was in favor of freedom of choice and that applied to his daughter’s vote as well as his. I was forever grateful and impressed that he took that stance.

So if you had walked by the house during that election season, you would have noticed a big RIZZO sign downstairs in the kitchen window where it was highly visible, and above it, on the second floor, an equally large LONGSTRETH sign.

For this was the house that compromise built. At least for that voting season, love and politics did mix!

 Still learning!

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