I mentioned earlier that I grew up in a single-parent household. Dad was as devoted to his role as a Democrat as some were to their various religious sects. By observing my father as he worked to protect and improve the School Without Walls (SWW), I learned early how much politics affects our day-to-day lives.
Dad, part of a group of students, teachers and parents joined together at the height of the 1968 riots, became the representative and eventual leader of the program, using John Bremer’s Parkway Program in Philadelphia as a guide. Based on Bremer’s educational philosophy, SWW followed a path of learning and exploration that widened the base of each student’s experience far past the traditional chalkboard and into the community at large.
SWW suffered through the Rochester City School District’s repeated attempts to shut the program down, forming grass-roots movements that helped preserve the program so that each year it grew stronger and more stable. Over the first three years, the school community held long meetings to work on strategy and to protest the nearly continual threat to the school’s existence.
In 1972, when I was in 4th grade, I began my life-long love-hate relationship with American politics. My school assignment was (and remains) a classic: Follow the election and report back what you learned. The 1972 Presidential Election was a major life lesson for me, because I was rooting for Senator George McGovern.
There were a lot of things happening in 1972. On TV we were watching All in the Family, Maude, M*A*S*H, and other shows in addition to the news. I was so wrapped up in family TV time I had goldfish named Huntley, Brinkley and Walter (because Cronkite was harder to pronounce, I guess). Dad had reel to reel tapes of the Beatles, Pete Seeger, Hair, Buffy Ste. Marie, and others. I was as much into the anti-war movement as an eight-year-old could be.
So when Senator McGovern became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, I knew who I wanted for my president.
The night of the election I sat in the kitchen, watching our small portable TV (featured prominently on our round, white table, very similar to the one pictured above). I sat and swiveled around, because sitting still wasn’t one of my strong suits, watching the returns as they rolled in. As the hours rolled by, I watched in horror as Nixon took state after state.
The experience shook me so, I cried.
I recall being in Sun Valley Idaho at a relatively posh (for us) hotel room watching TV on August 8th, 1974, hearing Dad holler at the TV screen “They got the son of a bitch,” as Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. During our Spring Break in 1976, we took a trip to Washington, DC. I believe it was our first, though I could be remembering wrong. It was a long time ago.
Dad took us to the FBI, the Mint, on a tour of the White House and Washington Monument, and to the Capitol, where we happened across Senator McGovern on his way elsewhere. I don’t remember what I said, only that he was substantially taller than Dad, very gracious and willing to shake my hand.
Senator McGovern died two days ago, having served a long and respected life, even as he is most remembered for that bitter defeat. As our country has become increasingly divided, it saddens me that the legacy people will remember most is Nixon’s landslide victory, however ill-gotten it might have been, and Gerald Ford’s subsequent pardoning of a man who should have gone to jail. Nixon set a precedent that is so firmly in place today, in our current election, that the Republican candidate can say anything and still be a serious threat, even in the face of what his predecessors have done.
I hope, for our sake, we can learn from history. I fear that we will not, and that we will pay a far higher price than anyone might imagine when we go to the polls two weeks from today.
Rest in peace, Senator. I believed in you then and I still believe in you now.
Huffington Post: McGovern’s Patriotism — And How the 2012 Campaign Dishonors It
The Washington Post: George McGovern, the man who never gave up