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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 1/26/11

The Making of a Cynic

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When I was a little kid, people around me always said I might grow up to become the President. They truly believed that any bright young man from a good family in America had an equal opportunity to help the world to become a better place. In the dreamy days of the late 50s, before we even had a TV, the world was at peace. Then they shot Kennedy.

I think it was JFK's assassination that pushed my father to a more outspoken activism. World War II had shown him enough of the military to make him cynical. When it broke out he was 20, earning his way through college, and already certified to train pilots. This made him a hot commodity, so he became an officer with almost no indoctrination. He spent the war in California, training bomber crews and observing how a general could command a flight to go duck hunting while the nation subsisted on rations. By the time I came along my father was vocally opposed to militarism. He took Eisenhower's warning to heart.

People in our small Montana town gave my father business because they knew he was honest and fair, but most kept an arm's length from his liberal politics. Hearing him rant about the waste of Vietnam and nuclear weaponry was the cost of doing business with him. When we had the only George McGovern banner in town, I had to put it back up every morning, because every night it was torn down.

My political innocence died when I was twelve. I watched the Tet Offensive and the Chicago Democratic Convention on TV, horrified by the violence that seemed to rule the world. That was the year they shot Dr. King, whose name was often heard along with Jesus Christ and Mohandas Gandhi in my home. Then they shot Bobby Kennedy, the last nationally popular candidate I could believe in.

When my high school kicked me out for refusing to cut my hair, my father took me to Billings to meet with an ACLU attorney. We took them to Federal Court and lost. When my father understood my interest in law, he suggested that I visit the State Legislature. I spent the full term as a freelance lobbyist. It was very empowering to learn that clearly stating the truth from my perspective could influence lawmakers. I still communicate regularly with legislators, though I'm not certain it still has an impact.

Back when RFK was Attorney General, he went after organized crime and sent mobsters to prison for usury, bribery, and fraud. Now people who do the same things get awards, because they legalized it.

I also remember the early '80s when the banks lobbied state by state to eliminate usury prohibitions. Prior to that, charging more than 10% interest was a crime. First Delaware caved in, and then the lobbyists threatened to close all the banks in each state that didn't go along with their proposed changes. It sure worked.

In 1984 I was on the ballot as the Democratic nominee for State Representative in Washington's 10th Legislative District. I learned a lot about targeting, doorbelling, and grassroots campaigning. More importantly, I learned the hard way about fundraising and name recognition. The incumbent knew how to jump through special interest hoops for money and raised more than seven times what we did. Although we won more votes per dollar than any race in the state, we lost by a landslide. My opponent lost on the issues, but he won with a last minute mailing to every voter that contained a free litter bag with his name on it. My cynicism went up a notch.

I organized several neighborhoods for the Democrats. In 2000, I helped Dennis Kucinich to a strong second behind Kerry in my LD. Then I formed a coalition with the Dean supporters to kick the old conservatives out of party offices and build a progressive party base. But our Representatives and Senators made it clear they felt more loyalty to Boeing than to their voters.

Why am I cynical? Because all my life the military keeps taking more money and killing more people and none of that has helped democracy or made us more secure. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, one of the primary objectives of the US military is apparently to recruit more enemies to justify the obscene expenditures. We'd be safer if we shut the Pentagon down and spent half that money feeding, clothing, housing, and educating people. Nobody would want to attack us.

I'm cynical because I've watched both mainstream political parties slide steadily to the right. Each Republican President has been more outrageous than the last, other than a mild reprieve from Ford, who proved that if you do nothing, at least you do no wrong. And every Democrat has been more conservative, more willing to cooperate with Republicans. Today, it is clear that the big corporations own Congress and the White House, and they're willing to fight us for our state legislatures.

I still fight because I still care. I'd rather lose for doing the right thing than win by going along with evil. But I'm not the bright eyed idealist I once was. The Proposed Constitution for North America, drafted some thirty years ago, seems like an impossible hope. I mostly just hope some humans survive.

The only hope for any success lies in the possibility that people who "get it" will live by their values, rather than accepting the easy way out. We can still make a dent if we all refuse to allow ourselves to be co-opted as employees, consumers or taxpayers. We've got to refuse to give any time or money to the big corporations or the governments they own. Working right where we live, we can take care of ourselves and each other and slowly, we can build a functional democracy from the grassroots.

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Since I turned 50, I've bicycled over 15,000 miles through 33 states. I write and teach in Corvallis, OR.
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