Monday, October 24, 2016

War is never civil

In the narrative genealogy I'm working on, I've just started researching how the Civil War might have affected my ancestors who all lived in Missouri at the time. I've been reading about the election of 1860 which ended up with 5 candidates. The winner, Abraham Lincoln, received less than 40 percent of the vote, concentrated in the densely populated northern states.

But in the backwoods counties of Missouri, where my ancestors lived, he was practically unknown. In one county, Lincoln received seven votes or less than 1 percent. Although slavery was legal in Missouri, very few of these poor farmers had slaves. Missouri's electoral votes actually went for Stephen Douglas, the Northern Democrat from Illinois, who believed in popular sovereignty, or allowing each state to decide whether it would allow slavery or not.

It was a very divisive election. I imagine my ancestors feeling much like we do today, wondering how friends and relatives can support a candidate whose ideas seem so abhorrent. Maybe they ignored the election. They probably had no idea that less than six months after the votes were cast -- only a month after this unknown Lincoln guy took office -- that this new president would be demanding that Missourians take up arms against each other and against the people in the states where they were born.

Makes you think.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Rally Round


I just realized tonight that I have been attending political rallies almost 50 years.
           Tonight it was my privilege to hear Bernie Sanders address a thunderous crowd in Grand Rapids. We had waited, standing in that hot and airless gym for more than an hour, and yet the enthusiasm when he eventually arrived was not dimmed. We applauded almost continually every point he made. It was invigorating just to be part of that diverse company: African American young men with dreadlocks, Muslim women with scarves, a lesbian couple, white-haired gentlemen in suits, mom with baby tied to chest... all ages, all races, all lifestyles, united and cheering together. "America's already great" proclaimed a baseball cap on a tall blonde young man. The slogan definitely rang true.
Me at 1976 rally for Ford
           My first rally was 1968 for anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy. I was a college student but the event I attended that year was a dress-up fundraiser. A single minister who was a friend of a friend had received an invitation for Mr. and Mrs. and invited me to use the Mrs. ticket. I was so excited to actually see a senator who was opposing that awful Vietnam war.
           Eight years later, 1976,  I was a reporter for the Aurora Beacon-News covering a rally for president Gerald Ford. His son Steven represented the President at an event in a hotel in St. Charles, Il. The newspaper's photographer took a picture of me that I kept all these years. Both of these events were more subdued than tonight's rally.
           Another eight years, 1984, and I was attending a rally for Walter Mondale at a union hall near Joliet, Il. I was assistant city editor for the Joliet Herald-News at the time, but I didn't attend in an official capacity. I went because Mondale's VP candidate ... Geraldine Ferraro... was the guest of honor. I was so excited that a woman was actually getting that close to becoming president. I wasn't the least subdued. I was ecstatic, yelling like a girl at a Beatles concert.
          Just four years later I went to a large outdoor rally for George H.W. Bush. I was dating a man who was a Republican although my interests often followed the Democratic platform. Each of us had 11-year-old sons. We took the boys to the event. My experience in newspapers and dealing with Secret Service helped me to guess where Bush would be in the crowd. I steered the boys in that direction and both were able to shake hands with the candidate. Meeting the vice president  was the whole goal of the day. I don't remember any speech at all.
          I remember one day when a political rally was held at Calder Plaza, just outside the Grand Rapids Press where I was working at the time. Several of us attended just to see what was going on. I'm not even sure what year or candidate.
         It's good to recall these events and realize how much things have changed, and how much they have stayed the same. Sometimes the mud slinging gets ugly but the actual process is exciting, invigorating, and very hopeful.