Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Party and Me - 40 years and counting

By the time I was eleven years old, I was becoming more and more interested in politics, candidates, and campaigns. While most boys my age were playing basketball or other sports, I actually got in trouble in the fifth grade for wearing political buttons to school and arguing with other kids. I was reading Newsweek. I remember Martin Luther King's assassination and not understanding why white and black people did not get along. At some point I asked my Dad which party we belonged to, and was told in quick fasion - "Republican". All of my relatives on both sides of my family were rock-ribbed Republicans. My Aunt Jackie was at one time the Republican party chair in Belmont County Ohio. But my identification with the GOP lasted only a couple of years for me. By the time I was fourteen, I began to question the issues and differences between the two parties and was feeling uneasy with my location on the political map.

It was in 1972. The war in Vietnam was raging, and Richard Nixon was running for re-election. Each summer riots rocked cities across the nation. Bobby Kennedy was dead, and everywhere young people were growing their hair long and rebelling against the establishment. I knew that I favored equal rights for women and blacks. I was awakening to the horror and folly of the war. And I was becoming an ardent environmentalist. I was appalled at the air and water pollution that was engulfing our world. I realized from my own readings and study of the political parties that my beliefs and feelings were with the Democrats. The Republican positions in favor of the war, against integration and women's rights, and being conservative on issues such as abortion were alien to me. I was also beginning to realize that I might be gay.

During the summer of 1972, George McGovern came to speak in my hometown of Canton, Ohio. My older brother, Rod, took me to the rally downtown and I got to hear McGovern speak. I got to shake his hand. And from that time on, I was an ardent and active Democrat. I even became involved in the campaign, and put up a yard sign in my window. Being a McGovern supporter in the upper middle class neighborhood of Avondale in Ohio was a lonely if not courageous thing to be.

McGovern of course lost the election in one of the biggest landslides in American electoral history. Within two years, Nixon resigned in disgrace, and a year after that, the last Americans fled Saigon in helicopters as panicked Vietnamese allies stormed the US embassy. The draft was gone, the war was over, and I moved to Columbus to study political science at Ohio State Universtiy. And in 1980, I became the youngest person ever to be elected from Ohio's 15th Congressional District as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. I was a Kennedy delegate, openly gay, and twenty-three years old.


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