Last Dad’s Day was June 16, 2019. It was a very good day. This one promises to be as well. Of course, there will be big differences. One year ago none of us could have imagined COVID-19. The other major societal stresses impacting our lives today could have been imagined, but not with precision. This Father’s Day weekend has significant overlays that impact on all of us, Dad or otherwise. I wonder what it will be like a year forward from today.
I choose, this time in history, to focus on a letter to the editor I wrote a week or so ago. It was occasioned by twin photos of the two young mayors of the Twin Cities, Jacob Frey of Minneapolis, and Melvin Carter of St. Paul, during the recent unrest after the murder of George Floyd.
To this moment, the letter has not been printed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, nor have they contacted me, which means that it likely won’t see ink. The paper chose to print a column by a now long-ago politician, Norm Coleman. It is their own right to choose points of view, of course.
So, I choose to present my own letter here, for you to agree or disagree with. It is printed exactly as submitted, a bit of food for thought. I was young, once, and often, in much less stressful circumstances, I had to make decisions as the mayors did, without the wisdom of hind sight. We’ve all been there, done that.
Anyway, here’s my June 15, 2020, letter to Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“Your “Two Mayors” front page certainly attracted attention.
I’ve just entered the 9th decade of my life, most of my adult years living and working in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
Personally, I think it is wonderful that young people are taking the reins of responsibility. Melvin Carter (41) and Jacob Frey (nearing 39) are half my age, but I applaud and thank them for their leadership during these trying times.
We elders had our opportunities, and certainly we have our right to second-guess and sidewalk superintend what is going on.
We might look back at the ages of the leaders we’ve known from years ago. Not only are Frey and Carter probably in their general age group, but they, too, made their mistakes, often due to the fact that they were also in the hot seat. Harry Truman popularized “the buck stops here” when he became President in 1945.
Mr. Truman was first elected to public office when he was 38. Take your pick of the politicians you love or loath – most have similar biographies.
Jacob and Melvin and their generation deserve our support and respect as they wrestle with impossible questions.“
Mr. Coleman was young once; so was I. The time is now for the new generation to fully take over; new faces of diverse sorts are desperately needed. Yes, they’ll make mistakes. So what else is new, for anyone who’s “been there, done that”?
Best wishes for success to the young and the others under- and mis-represented in our past.
Probably the best advice I ever heard about making a difference came from my friend, Rev. Verlyn Smith, some years before he died in 2012. A giant for peace and justice, Verlyn was a South Dakota farm boy, soft and plain-spoken. As it happened, his work as a Lutheran minister found him as a campus minister in California during the hottest times of the Vietnam war protests in the late 60s, early 70s. Verlyn was receiving an award one night in 2010 page 8), and I was in the room when he gave brief remarks. In my recollection, he said he went on the college assignment without much of a bent towards activism – that evolved over time. He got to thinking back to those days and was musing about student activism he had witnessed in California. As I vividly recall, he simply said words to this effect: “Almost all of the college kids back then were involved in being college kids working towards their degree, like now. Only perhaps 2% of them were the anti-war activists. The 2% were enough to make the difference.” That really stuck with me. It only takes some to make a difference. And there are many ways to make a difference. Find your niche.
POSTNOTE: We are living in troubled times, times that need activists. As it happens, the COVID-19 Crisis in our country coincided with an excellent workshop I was attending on racism, “Becoming Human”, in February, 2020. In the end, the entire program, through St. Thomas University, ended up on-line, accessible, free, to anyone. Here is the link (scroll down to “Becoming Human” under “Featured Resources”. There are six modules, approximately one hour each.)
And if you’re interested in Tulsa, today: here.
PBS Frontline had an excellent special on COVID-19 this week. It may be accessible on-line. Take a look.
COMMENTS (see other comments at end of the post as well):
from Donna: Thanks for your words Dick. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think both mayors are admirable in these uncertain times. I am very optimistic that we will come out a better country. What I still am baffled about is why black history is basically not taught in schools. I am astounded at how ignorant I was about Tulsa and past history. I was talking to my son last night and asked if he knew about Tulsa or some of the history we learned about in the first session at the Basilica. He took AP history in Hopkins schools taught by an African American. He said before last week he had not heard any of it. I just feel that until we start teaching all of America’s history including injustices to Native Americans we can not heal as a country. Happy Father’s Day.
Thanks for your editorial, I too am greatly encouraged by the younger generation in the mayors office’s and on the streets. I believe a new day is coming thanks to them. This is the most encouraged I have been in my 73 years.
Well written observations from your past. I believe our future has its best chance in the hands of our young women like Ilhan, AOC, Tashida, etc. All we have to do now is survive the next 6 months.
Hi, DIck ! – It’s been a while….
Dick, I have to disagree. Youth is no excuse for incompetence if one has stepped forward to serve. One is either ready or one is not. Since I live in Mpls. (12 blocks SSE of Cup’s Foods) and not St. Paul or anywhere else in the east metro, I’ll leave Melvin Carter’s post-Memorial Day week “off to one side”, and comment only on Jacob Frey. He is clearly out of his depth. It’s not that he makes poor decisions – though he does – it’s that he’s never indicated that the decisions involved in running a major city are of interest to him. And compared to his colleagues on the City Council, the Park Board, and those from the city on the Henn. Cty. Bd. and in the State Leg., he’s actually closer to understanding what’s required of him than most. It’s a real problem in today’s DFL, and in the nationwide Democratic Party generally. This world has all kinds of problems to solve, but at some point “moderate pragmatic Democrats” like you and me have to hold ourselves to account as the enablers we’ve become, and then hold our less moderate, less pragmatic brethren equally to account. Contrary to contemporary political opinion, it is not good training for higher office, to attain lower office and try to solve all the world’s problems from those seats – while ignoring the issues that the folks in those seats are supposed to spend their time on. I hope and expect that things are not like that in Woodbury (yet…?), but it’s what we face daily here in Mpls. In the last few years, I’ve lost competent representation on the City Council, County Board, School Board, and more, and gained representatives who are in some cases disinterested in the “little issues” their offices entail, and are in some cases simply clueless. Not that I always agreed with the old office holders – just that they seemed fully engaged in the things their offices entailed. A few of them lost their seats to challengers specifically because of that. Plus we haven’t had a competent mayor since RT – and he’s like an “exception that proves the rule”, since it took him about a term-and-a-half to get competent. At least he never behaved as though the hard but important work of running the nuts-and-bolts of a city were beneath him. He wasn’t really ready, but he was willing to learn, and he did.
I actually liked Norm Coleman’s op-ed, which included a lot of things that needed to be said. Was it too snarky? – Yeah, but if you ever knew Norm, you couldn’t possibly be surprised by that. I try not to forget that until the not-so-moderate, not-so-pragmatic DFLers of St. Paul ran him out of the party, he was, like you and me, a “moderate, pragmatic, Democrat”. I really wish we were still a big enough tent to have more like him on our side. I rarely agreed with him back then, but I understood the value of his residing in our tent rather than the other guys’ tent. Today? He obviously has no home whatsoever in Trump’s GOP, which means that except for an occasional op-ed, he’s entirely sidelined. As are other frequent voices of reason. Did you see the op-ed Walter Mondale, Sharon Sayles-Belton and others ran in the Strib the other day? I’m not even sure there will be blowback – they’re simply ignored around these parts at present.
I increasingly find myself “in the opposition”. To the GOP running the things they run. To the DFL running the things they run. As someone who has worked, and strategized, campaigns – in short someone who’s been a partisan – it feels just plain weird to be in this position. As someone who was trained by the Wellstone organization when it was still called that to manage campaigns (a 30-yer old Melvin Carter, and a 29-year-old Peggy Flanagan, were two of my instructors!) it feels beyond odd to have no one in front of me today for whom I desperately want to do that (and for free…!) As you know from the years we worked together on DFL campaigns, I was always negatively judgmental of the folks we’d meet ‘at the doors’ who’d complain about office-holders who repeatedly failed to compromise to get things done. “I wish folks like that would just pick a side and quit complaining. Or do the hard work of building a new consensus, where their heads are at. Because they are only 10%. And they do nothing but complain that one 40+% bunch and another 40+% bunch, who agree with each other on nothing, won’t do what the 10%ers want… We need to win their votes but they have no defensible right to their expectations of our candidates.”
Well, now it’s not “they”, it’s “we”. And, I sense my “new community” is even smaller now than it was then, and I, myself, have no idea how to build consensus around moderate pragmatism. What’s more, I don’t sense that I have changed my values, or my basic opinions about much of anything in the realms of politics/government/social issues. I find myself even understanding that old Reagan quote about not leaving the party – the party left me (or whatever it was, exactly). Can’t imagine I’d ever go over to the other side like Reagan and Coleman did… but I have found in recent years, and likely will again, that occasionally the option on my ballot from our side is downright scary, and the option on my ballot from their side is less scary, or even not-scary… and in those circumstances, I have done and will do the right thing. But it’s a hell of a way to make one’s choice.
Dick, an aside.since you brought to mind the concept of generational change in your essay. I’m 64, and I’d never have guessed in the 12 years since we met that you were 26 years older than me. But it made me think – I am actually two years closer to the average age (40) of our two boyish Mayors. Close to dead-center between your age and theirs, but just a smidgen closer to them. It feels completely counter-intuitive. I feel “of you” from a generational perspective, and altogether not “of them”. What do you make of that…?!? Did you feel that way at 64?
All the Best! Happy Fathers’ Day!
Yours is a ‘wow’ comment. Thanks for the passion. Re the age, I’m 80, which is the beginning of the 9th decade! I have not wavered from my self-description of ‘moderate, pragmatic democrat’ which I’ve used since I started the blog in March 2009.. It comes naturally out of a career of representing school teachers in a teachers union. Difference of opinions was a constant.
I think the generational change will be messy, just as it was when I started in union staff work…in the first collective bargain under statute in 1972. Neither ‘side’ knew how to deal with (on the one hand) ‘rights’; and on the other ‘responsibilities’. We all made lots of mistakes, labor and management. The more recent political model, of seeking to control and dominate the loser, will hopefully fail, but not until there is very serious ‘regime change’. And we can help. By the way, my political hero and mentor really was Gov. Elmer L. Andersen (Republican). He and I became good friends. I have 55 letters from him to ‘prove’ that! He believed in the need to work things out, and he was a true progressive, though life-long Republican. Thanks again.
Dick, it appears you caught me wandering aimlessly through the intersection of “Illiterate Avenue” and “Innumerate Street”…! Of COURSE you’d said you had just turned 80, not 90, As Homer Simpson says: “D’Oh!” Glad my sense of how old you are was correct all along…
Some day we must talk about the evolution these past near-50 years of public employee unionization. Methinks, as they say, “mistakes were made”, on all sides, and we see really entrenched ill effects today not just resulting from the Police Unions, but, sadly, from the Teachers Unions as well… ’nuff said on that, for now…
Before living here since ’84, I went to grad school in Berkeley, before that to college at Mich. St., and before that, grew up in the NW suburbs of Chicago. Where I grew up is where current Ill. Dem. US Senator Tammy Duckworth lives. She was Congressperson for most of my siblings and my mom before winning the Senate seat. Today it’s Raja Krishnamoorthi. But back in the ’60s and ’70s, that was GOP country. My Congressman was Phil Crane…! You likely remember him as one of the most conservative members of the US House in the ’70s – a Barry Goldwater protege and proud of it. But my political heroes were the so-called “liberal Republicans” of the day – Illinois Senator Charles Percy and before him Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen. Folks forget Dirksen was one of the drafters of the ’64 and ’68 Civil Rights Acts. He’s more remembered for his oratory, and specifically for having said “…a billion here and a billion there, and, before you know it, boys, we’re spending real money!” – although there’s no evidence he actually said it. But it sounded like something he’d say…
Back in the 70s, we had a weird set-up in Illinois. Each State Senate District got one Senator plus three State Reps in the House, elected at-large, and the two parties had a “gentelman’s agreement”, never enshrined in actual law, that each would run only two House candidates in each district, thus ensuring the minority party one State Rep in every single district. Can you imagine that, today? I’m not sure when it all fell apart – though I recall it was because somebody broke the agreement without warning, of course – but it did introduce me to the possibility of being a “moderate pragmatic Democrat”, because I got to serve as the High School Student Representative on the Citizens Advisory Committee of our token Democrat in the Ill. House, Rep. Eugenia Chapman. We would meet biweekly in her house, for a whole evening, maybe 12 of us in all, me the only non-adult, and she’d treat us like what each of us thought really mattered. Hard to imagine that happening today, either, as busy as the life of a State Rep. is, and as demanding of their time the activists, lobbyists, etc., are.
But your Elmer L. Anderson story, above, and the ones I’ve just told, beg the question: What life experiences are even available today to a person younger than us (you and me), that would lead them to a political world-view of moderate pragmatism? Either liberal OR conservative moderate pragmatism…? A young person interested in politics today has no crowd to run with if he or she has not picked a side….
Dick – FYI Letters to the Editor. I’ve had several letters in over the years. They’ve never contacted me to let me know one way or the other if they’ll use it…too time consuming. If it hasn’t been used within 5-7 days, I’d say they won’t. B
Yes, I know the drill over a lot of years.
Dick et al:
As one who benefits from the OFH (Old F–ts Hour) at the local grocery and other stores and is a member of he vulnerable age and illness group albeit no in the dangerous at risk situation that I would be in were I to be on Trump’s staff, I am not ready to turn everything over to the younger generation. Rather, I hope to find ways to work with them and to help both young and old find positions and issues of common interest. We often say that all issues are senior issues and if that is true, we have to work with folks of all ages to make that clear to all. As Wellstone always told us, we all do better when we all do better and none of us should forget no matter what age we might be.