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A Political Turnaround by David Drum, Part 1 of 2

4 Dec

David Drum 007

 

 

David Drum is the author of eight nonfiction books in the health area, as well as one book of poetry and many magazine and newspaper articles. He is also the author of the satirical novel, Introducing the Richest Family in America.

 

Part 1 of 2

Like many other young men of my generation, my politics turned completely around in the Sixties.

I was born at the tail end of World War II into a fairly conservative family. My father was a test pilot during the war. When I was in elementary school, America was fighting Communism in Korea. I grew up ducking under my desk in elementary school to prepare for an atomic bomb attack and watching Joe McCarthy on TV. Later, I attended high school in conservative San Diego.

After I flunked my entire junior year and half-heartedly repeated it, I was expelled from high school at the beginning of my senior year. After working briefly as a gardener, I was kicked out of the house and sent to live with my paternal grandparents in Conover, North Carolina.

My North Carolina relatives were southern Republicans, more progressive on race issues than the segregationist Democrats of that day. My grandfather, D.S. Drum, was a strong family man who owned a well-known funeral home. A respected local businessman, he had never borrowed a dime from a bank. My grandfather walked me into Newton-Conover High School, announced that I was his grandson, and got me re-admitted to school.

Like every other 18-year-old man in the United States, I was required to go to the post office and register with the Selective Service. I was mailed a draft card in the summer of 1963. With President John Kennedy in the White House, the first young men my age were being drafted for our undeclared war in Vietnam. Some guys I knew from high school volunteered for the Marine Corps or Green Berets, while I was struggling to finish high school.

My southern grandfather kept me busy. He took me to church every week, and I worked at his funeral home and at the ambulance business after school and on weekends. And finally, after five years and summer school, I graduated from high school.

With the help of my family and a Methodist minister who was a family friend, I was admitted on probation to a small junior college in the Pisgah Mountains, south of Asheville.

I surprised everyone by doing well. Brevard College was a small, private, two-year liberal arts college affiliated with the Methodist Church. About seven hundred students lived on campus. As a college student, I received a student deferment, meaning I couldn’t be drafted while I was in school. I knew there was some kind of war in Vietnam, but I didn’t understand it. Like most of my friends, I presumed we were the good guys, fighting for truth, justice, and the American way.

President Kennedy was assassinated my freshman year. I still remember sitting around that little black and white television set in the dormitory lounge, watching the horrible events unfold.

My college girlfriend, Isabel Dixon, nominated me for class president my freshman year. I had never considered the possibility I could be president of anything, but later that year I decided to run for student body president. I won my first election as an outsider candidate, but the administration invalidated my victory. When the school nominated someone else to oppose me, I ran a second time and beat him too. My only memorable campaign stunt was to be carried into the school cafeteria in a coffin, borne on the shoulders of several students in suits, and to leap out of the coffin in the middle of the cafeteria proclaiming, “I’m not dead yet!”

It was still America, the land of opportunity. While the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were taking the country by storm, I began thinking of myself as a conservative. Another student gave me a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which swept me away. As exemplified by the architect-hero Howard Roark, the book argues that superior individuals with will power create things their own way. Selfishness is a virtue, according to Rand. At this point in time, Rand’s “objectivist” philosophy seemed the right way to live. My political reading in those days was far to the right of the political spectrum — Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative, Robert Welch’s The Politician, John Stormer’s None Dare Call It Treason, and books of that ilk.

In 1964, the year I was president of the student body, I supported Barry Goldwater for President. The Republican senator from Arizona was an outspoken conservative and a colonel in the Air Force Reserve. Although I wasn’t yet 21 and couldn’t vote, Goldwater’s honesty appealed to me. I saw him as a political straight-shooter, like John Wayne. I did not think the same of Lyndon Johnson, who took over as president when Kennedy died. Goldwater boldly called for escalating the war in Vietnam, while Johnson painted him as a reckless warmonger.

The Goldwater campaign opened a small headquarters in Brevard, and I did a little righteous footwork for his losing campaign. I hadn’t considered volunteering for military service, since I was still in school, but as much as I’d thought about it, the Vietnam War seemed like a righteous venture at that time.

I graduated from Brevard in 1965 and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in political science and planning to become a lawyer, and after that perhaps, a politician. I was married by now, but I wasn’t getting along with my first wife. She was pregnant; we lived together in married student housing for a short time. I remember the ferment on the historic old Chapel Hill campus, the impromptu gatherings and speeches as students hotly debated the war in front of old, ivy-covered buildings. I remember stopping to listen to speeches, sometimes in the rain or snow.

A turning point in my political thinking came in February of 1966. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings held public hearings on Vietnam. Chaired by Arkansas Senator William Fulbright*, the hearings were nationally televised, and I watched them with interest. By this time, my wife had gone back to her mother and taken our infant daughter with her. This left me alone watching the hearings in an empty apartment that I would soon vacate.

Testifying were a great many historians, retired generals, and other experts including George Kennan, who developed the containment strategy that set the strategy for the Cold War. Kennan was among others who recommended withdrawing from Vietnam as soon as feasible.

I do remember being surprised to learn that the people of South Vietnam would have overwhelmingly voted for the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh if the United States had given them a chance to vote. But instead of allowing the vote, the United States created South Vietnam as a separate country, set up a puppet government, and made two countries out of what had been one.

I moved into a rooming house in Chapel Hill. My life was changing. Two writing instructors had encouraged me to think about becoming a writer, and I was leaning in that direction. One of my short stories and a poem had been published in a Chapel Hill literary magazine.

At the end of the 1966 school year, I picked up my portable typewriter and boarded a Greyhound to New Orleans. I had seen The Glass Menagerie several times at Brevard, and I was fascinated by the sad lyric of Tennessee Williams’ play, set in New Orleans. That summer in that crumbling southern city, the oldest and most interesting city in which I have ever lived, I supported myself as a street vendor — selling ice cream, tamales, and hot dogs from a push cart on the streets of the French Quarter and living in a tiny room at the Lee Circle YMCA.

I spent hours pounding the typewriter in my small room. One day a guy told me about the writing program at the University of Iowa. He mentioned an article in Collier’s magazine, which I looked up in the New Orleans Public Library. Iowa’s graduate writing program was famous; it sounded good. On a whim, at the end of the summer I hitchhiked up through Mississippi and Arkansas to Iowa City. Most of the way I travelled with a jumpy bearded guy from Detroit I met at the YMCA who seemed to believe that every person in the deep south was secretly a Klansman who would probably kill us.

When I arrived in Iowa City, the small building that housed the Writers Workshop was closed. But it was a lovely old campus, with a river running through it, and beautiful trees and hills. I slept that night in a laundry room under a campus dormitory. The next day I hitchhiked across the country to see my family in San Diego, the second time I had hitched across the United States. I didn’t own a car while I was an undergraduate, so I did a lot of hitching during those years.

I attended the University of California at Riverside my senior year. I changed my major from political science to English. I worked two jobs to pay my way through school. Since I lived off-campus, I wasn’t too involved in campus life. But I did write a couple of articles for the school newspaper, my first attempts at journalism, and my poetry was published in a small campus literary magazine before I graduated in 1967.

I sent off an application to the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. That summer I headed for Las Vegas to divorce my first wife. I had become involved with another woman at Riverside, and she wanted to marry me, too.

I worked at the El Cortez Hotel Casino on Fremont Street, dealing craps on the night shift. Although I had nightmares about numbers, it was fun to watch the dice, observe the night life, and to earn cash tips. I remember feeling exhilarated when I emerged from that dimly-lit, smoke-filled casino into the bright early morning sunlight with cash in my pocket. My Las Vegas divorce came through at the end of the summer. Five days later, always the optimist, I married again.

To be continued.

*Editor’s Note. J. William Fulbright was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who in February 1966 initiated a widely watched and televised series of “educational” hearings. Witnesses included retired generals and foreign policy analyst George Kennan. Kennan recommended that the United States withdraw “as soon as this could be done without inordinate damage to our prestige or stability in the area” to avoid risking war with China. His testimony provoked President Johnson to order FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to investigate whether Fulbright was “either a communist agent or a dupe of the communists.”
The hearings resulted in a significant shift in public opinion. The president’s ratings on his conduct of the war dropped from 63 percent to 49 percent. It was now considered respectable to question the war.

 

 

 

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High School and the Influences of slavery, Assassinations, and the Vietnam War, by Kathy Green

11 Nov

rail biking with Chuck

Kathy Green was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. After majoring in geology, she became a National Park Ranger for five years. During that time, she met Chuck Kroger [the editor’s brother], whom she married in 1978. They settled in Telluride, Colorado in 1979, where they co-founded Bone (Back of Nowhere Engineering) Construction company. When Chuck died of pancreatic cancer in 2007, Kathy and co-workers continued the company’s projects. Kathy enjoys hiking, running rivers, making art (including silk dying), and working for environmental and social justice in her region.

 

Background: Missouri was the compromise state in the Civil War. Some of my great great great ancestors fought on the confederate side and owned slaves. My mother still has the slave book from that time, recording the births and deaths of the slaves. My mother also was told (oral history) that my fifth great grandfather was a “good owner” because he never broke up families.

I was in first grade in 1956 when Adlai Stevenson was running for president. My family had moved to Webster Groves a year earlier. Webster Groves, a St. Louis suburb, was more conservative and Republican than my family. My understanding is that all of my family had been Democrats since the Democratic Party was formed in the 1830s. A few family “rogues” have married Republicans but their kids have all been born Democrats. I came home in tears one day in late October 1956 because we had had a mock election at school. Out of 30 students in my class, Adlai Stevenson had gotten only six votes. Come election day that November, I was “working the election”—almost six years old, standing the required 100 feet from the door to the school/polling-place door, smiling and trying to hand every approaching voter a Stevenson brochure. Working elections was a family activity. A little metal pin of the bottom of a shoe with a hole worn in the sole is one of my prize possessions to this day. Go Adlai!

At the same time that I was a young child being taught to work elections and work to preserve historic buildings from demolition, my grandfather, John Raeburn Green, and the family law firm were under severe criticism and lost many clients during the McCarthy witch-hunt. My grandfather believed that everyone deserved counsel and he believed in free speech. He took the pro bono case of a man accused of being a Communist and defended him before the Supreme Court (and lost). For that volunteer work, Joseph McCarthy, from the Senate floor, called my grandfather and his law partner (one of the senators from Missouri) communists—a scary and destructive event at the time. Many of my family preferred to be activists that flew “under the radar” after that experience. We were never afraid to be Democrats, to work for social justice, environmental justice, and other liberal causes. We just did not need recognition—especially in the Senate. I didn’t understand the risk completely. I don’t think even my grandfather understood it that well. But I grew up my entire life with this story. My mother said never to tell anyone you were a socialist or a communist.

When I was five, my kindergarten teacher taught us the National Anthem and Dixie, one right after the other. One time when my family went to a ball game, everyone stood and sang the National Anthem. When it was over I started in to sing Dixie. My mom asked what on earth I was doing, and I said, Singing the next stanza. She said, No! Can’t you tell that those are two different songs? I couldn’t; apparently I’m tone-deaf/musically challenged. Throughout elementary school our music teacher had us sing both songs in succession.

 

Our family were big Hubert Humphrey supporters. Once John Kennedy became the Democratic candidate for President, we were all for him. We worked hard to help Kennedy win the election. Many of our friends were Republicans so during the 1960 election and during his presidency, I heard these friends rant and rave against JFK. On Nov. 22, 1963, I was almost 13 years old and in eighth grade. They told us over the junior high school speaker system that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. School was dismissed. I walked out of school confused and upset, into a howling rainstorm. As I tried to find the friends that I usually walked to and from school with, my mother suddenly appeared with my little brother to drive me home. Everyone was crying. At home, the TV was on full time—that never happened in our house; we traditionally watched only an hour or two of TV a day. All our friends came by our house over the next few days. The people that had been ranting and raving against Kennedy were crying and praising him. I found this total change in their feelings startling and confusing.

In my high school, Webster Groves, there were a series of ironic things that happened in my history classes. We were reading about socialism and communism and about sharing the wealth, and it seemed so intuitively obvious that that’s how the world should be run. On the one hand we were practicing duck and cover to protect ourselves from the Communists, but on the other hand we were learning how fair those systems are. Webster Groves was a pre-Civil War town that had had plantations and farms with slaves. Every kid knew disturbing history. In my junior year we had a teacher who was new to the area and kind of young. He started out with a lecture about people who had been slaves taking up the names of their owners after the Emancipation Proclamation. We were sitting there, black and white kids, some with the same last names, and we all knew that Johnny’s great great great grandfather had owned Sally’s family way back. We’d known this our whole lives, and the teacher was giving us this huge lecture. We were thinking, Yeah, so what? The teacher asked if there were any questions, and the black kid popped up and said, Yeah, I’ve got the same last name as he does because his grandfather owned mine. The teacher got a horrified look on his face. Apparently the history teacher didn’t know the history of the town he was teaching in. Things were not always perfect between the white and black students. We knew our history and knew that it wasn’t good or kind, but we felt it wasn’t worth dwelling on. Most of the time, we students wanted to move towards more racial equality. These high school lectures followed being taught to sing “Dixie” along with the “National Anthem” all through elementary school. Strange….

The next year we had Modern European History. A woman teacher started the first class with an introductory lecture. This class had about 20% black and 80% white students, with two random Asian students whose parents were professors at the big universities. The teacher lectured that we all came from Europe and that European history is the most important in the world, and on and on. She stopped and my friend Janet raised her hand. Janet has blond curly hair and blue eyes. Janet said, I am a Cherokee Indian, and this history has nothing to do with me, and why did you say that it did? The teacher said, Oh. She quickly started roll call, and she got to the name Janet Bushyhead. Janet raised her hand. She really was a Cherokee Indian and a princess at that. An Englishman had married into her tribe years and years ago, so lots of Bushyhead family had blond curly hair and blue eyes. Her dad looked much more Cherokee but her grandmother and sisters did not. It was a priceless moment. We were bratty sixteen-year-olds in 1967. To see the look on this teacher’s face. The black students were all smirking. Had one of them challenged her, they probably would have gotten sent to the principal. We thought, how can she lecture us when she could look out across the classroom. Maybe you don’t see the sleeper Indian princess in disguise but you could see the diversity that we did have in this small town.

When I was in high school, my dad became the selective service attorney counselor, so that if you were going to get drafted, you were provided with a lawyer to talk to. This was a volunteer post. It was interesting for me; I was a very shy, gawky, geeky sixteen-year-old high school kid and I was watching the sports stars at my school a year or two older than I who had not gone to college or dropped out and now were being drafted and would come over one evening a week. My dad would come home early. I would sit at the top of the stairs where I could hear what was being said. They were almost in tears. I’d listen to what my dad was telling them about deferrals. There wasn’t much hope he could offer them. It was sad, and some of them never came home. This counseling brought it all alive for me, just like World War II later came alive for me when I traveled in Germany. My mother told me a lot of stories about World War II, and watching this unfold in my younger years brought it all home and understand the impact of being in your teens and early 20s during that war was so incredibly major.

My parents started out tolerant of the Vietnam war; it seemed like something the U.S. ought to do. My dad had served in World War II. It made him grow up but it also distorted the rest of his life. In time my family got more and more angry about the war. Both my grandmothers had these big buttons that said “Grandmothers for McGovern” and were very active in his campaign. That’s one of the things that shaped my high school years from 1965 to 1968. The other thing that influenced me was the knowledge that my great great great grandfather had owned slaves, and then, after “Roots” was aired, to see black people come to our house to look up their family histories in the slave book. Then in the spring of 1968 a lot of dramatic events happened. Martin Luther King was killed, and then the night before I graduated from high school, Bobby Kennedy was killed. It was this weird feeling. I can remember we were having our family dinner before we went to the graduation ceremony, and there were these graduate parties afterwards, and I was sitting there all dressed up in those silly clothes, supposed to be celebrating the biggest event of my life, and we’d just had another assassination. It was really hard to reconcile the two: to go forward with the ceremony and the congratulations and to party that night and the assassination the day before. There wasn’t much alcohol and barely any marijuana at this party because it was 1968 in the Midwest. Five years later everybody would have gotten drunk or stoned to mourn the assassination. But it was a real wake-up call that these things were happening my senior year of high school.

Graduating from high school is a big change in your life, but graduating into a world where assassination was becoming an everyday occurrence was scary. What would college and adult life be like?  [to be continued]

“He’s Just the President,” by Marcielle Brandler

25 Jun

Marcielle Brandler

Award-winning poet Marcielle Brandler is a TV producer, seminar director, public speaker, and college educator. Her book of poems and CD by the same title, The Breathing House, and Fun with Grammar, are available on Amazon.com. Marcielle’s humanitarian work in raising money for many groups goes back to the eighties. She has been an English adjunct at Los Angeles City College since 1988. Her website is www.marciellepresents.com. She can be reached at marcielle@verizon.net.

 

In 1963, I was 14 and sitting in my classroom, working quietly, when our teacher Miss Carlson interrupted us and made an announcement. I couldn’t figure out why she was so deadly serious.

“President Kennedy has been shot.”

The stunned silence also confused me. As Miss Carlson continued with details and how Kennedy was dead, some kids actually cried.

So did Miss Carlson.

Kennedy  Kennedy Assassination

I thought, He’s just the president. I was a kid and no one had ever talked to me about how much a so-distant public figure and role model could matter in a kid’s life. What has he to do with me? My parents were Republican, but even if Nixon had died, I would have felt the same confusion.

At 14 I knew nothing about our world and the importance of our leaders, but now I’m always educating myself and meeting with my council people and senators. I work on their campaigns,  and I even went to see President Obama when he visited Los Angeles. We as citizens should learn from our past, its flaws and its virtues, so that we improve our world. We need to call our congresspeople and let them know when they are doing a good job and when they fall short.