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MCDP Member Story: The Day I Became a Democrat

Written By:

Jeff Ostahowski


I was just a kid, a Boy Scout, on my way to the National Jamboree at Valley Forge.  A few of us scouts from my town took the B & O railroad from Michigan to Washington D.C. for a couple of days and then on to Valley Forge.  I had just turned fourteen and it was the first time my family and I slept in different States as I was beginning to learn how incredibly big the world was.


We stayed in a downtown hotel and after breakfast, the scout group walked to the Washington Monument.  We were given the option to climb to the top or stay on the ground with the leaders.  I think we all climbed the stairs, around 270 steps as I recall.  At the top, there were four tiny little windows, one in each direction.  I could see only air, as I wasn’t tall enough to look down to see the ground.  After a gratefully fast and easy descent, our group headed out past the Reflecting Pool.  Just a year earlier Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Had a Dream" speech right here at the Lincoln Memorial.


This was the place I wanted to be.  Honest Abe was my hero.  For several years I had been fascinated with the Civil War; I even tried to write a Civil War novel.  I knew in my heart of hearts that Abraham Lincoln was a great man.   I turned the corner and there he was, the Great Man sitting in his great chair.  I dropped to my knees and then sat on the floor sobbing.  I cried my eyes out.  I had just walked past the “Whites Only” restrooms on the north side of the memorial.  I had seen my first “Whites Only” sign earlier that morning but I didn’t pay it any attention.


It took a “Whites Only” sign at the right hand of Abraham Lincoln to get through to me.  It was so wrong on so many different levels.  It was evil in plain sight, and everyone was walking past it like it wasn’t even there.  But that was only if you were white, I’m sure if you weren’t white, you understood the evil pulsating from that sign.  I managed to compose myself and left the Memorial knowing that my great hero sat uncomfortably between segregated restrooms. 


Not long after the National Jamboree, I quit the scouts, grew my hair Beatle long, and started listening to music on the radio and chasing girls.  I guess I became a real teenager.  It wasn’t until after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. that I thought about political things.  Towards the end of May, I called up a Democratic organizer in town and told him I wanted to volunteer on the Robert Kennedy campaign.  He said they were just starting to organize and they would call me when they were ready for canvassing.  On June 6 Robert Kennedy was assassinated.   A year later I was knocking on the door of our State Capitol seeking employment.

       

I was a Democrat, that was the only thing I knew about politics.  After more than fifty years, this is what I have come to know - as Democrats, we strive to act and support a great many things including but not limited to:


1) To not only believe in but act with respect for the dignity of all people. 


2) To be inclusive in the participation in our political processes, even criminals after serving their sentence, should have the right to vote restored.


3)  In the policy tug of war between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, Democrats are almost always with the ‘have nots’.


4)  In the tug-of-policy war between higher profits and the environment, Democrats favor the environment at least 9 out of 10 times. 


5) Democrats favor a graduated income tax with higher percentages of tax going to those who make more.  The top 1 percent of taxpayers who own more than 70% of our nation’s total wealth need to pay their fair share.  No more tax holidays for the super-rich. 


6) Democrats support both a strong national defense and proper care and benefits for our service veterans. 


7) Democrats support public education from birth to adulthood including resource programs for pregnant mothers, newborns, infants, pre-kindergarten development, and vocational-tech education.

 

I think you get the picture.  Democrats understand that government must play diverse multi-faceted roles for the significant benefit of our society.   Particularly over the next year, Mr. Lincoln would be comforted to know that Democrats will be working hard to ensure that “government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth.”

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