Guest Commentary

I want my fellow Democrats to get off their butts and stand up for self-respect and democracy

I've gleefully accepted an invitation to speak to a group of Tucson Democrats; they invited me, because they thought I was a "progressive who might shake them up a bit."

The problem is, I don't know what to say to my fellow party members, except: "Where the hell have you been?"

Thirty years ago, I saw what was happening to our country and realized that writing poetry about evil overpowering good was not going to change anything. I saw generosity being overpowered by greed, kindness by cruelty, and decided to take action.

I started preaching at the post office, the bank--anywhere I was standing in line. I spoke loudly enough for only the people in line to hear me and made it clear that I didn't blame any employees for anything.

"Why are we standing here allowing a bank to treat us like dirt?" I'd say. "They act like they're doing us a favor to use our money." I got a lot of comments like, "Why don't you go to Russia?" When I suggested we do fitness exercises and started jogging in line, I got kicked out and had my checking account canceled.

I'm doing pretty much the same thing now, with pretty much the same reactions.

Anyway, I was nervous about the speech, so I wrote it all out, and I thought, "This isn't bad." Then, boom! The lights went out, and I sat there listening to the rain wash it all away: My words were gone from the screen, and as a typical "senior," I couldn't remember what I'd just written.

Suddenly, I recalled speaking on behalf of Franklin D. Roosevelt in a school mock election when he was running for his fourth term.

The year I was born, Grandpa was so elated that Roosevelt beat Herbert Hoover that he painted the election results on the side of our barn. I grew up with the promise that life was going to get better for people like us, the "little guy," and I watched it happen. The tramps we used to feed, who traveled the dirt road in front of our farmhouse, were now employed by the Works Progress Administration paving that road.

My grandmother--always ready with her account of Hoover firing tear gas into veterans and homeless people who marched on the White House--delighted in watching truckloads of young people from the city heading for the mountains to build toilets as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps, instead of standing in bread lines.

Roosevelt, a rich guy in a wheelchair, was the personification of courage and compassion that restored the soul of our country. The farmer was the "backbone of America"; the workers were organizing; and We the People were showing the world what self-respect and democracy looked like. Then the United States joined forces with Britain and the Soviet Union to fight fascism, and We the People went to war.

But when "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" was no longer needed as a battle cry, we failed to heed the warning.

In the "well adjusted" 1950s, The Power of Positive Thinking set up shop as a religion and wiped out half of the brains of millions of citizens. That old-time fear of God, instead of morphing into the love of goodness, was twisted into the fear of "negative thoughts." People started to believe that working cheerfully, even for a tyrannical boss, would lead to personal success and salvation. This led to the rich getting richer, guilt-free, at the expense of the compliant poor.

We the People have become afraid of our own thoughts and feelings, afraid to look at the negative facts in front of our eyes and afraid to seek the truth. I grew up watching us grow strong, and now I'm growing old watching us disappear.

I want our local Democrats--including a governor who shamelessly supports the death penalty and a congresswoman who has voted for more money for a war of aggression--to stop surrendering to the bullies who have taken control of our lives.

I remember a nonviolent rebellion in the 1960s against war and bigotry when citizens, including two Kennedys and a King, were assassinated by an attitude that now has Arizona demonizing migrants and imprisoning priests for protesting torture.

In the name of all the courageous, compassionate people in our country, I want Democrats, locally and everywhere, to come back and show the world what self-respect and democracy look like.