Making It Through Our Turmoils By Reflecting On The Past

Today a cousin of mine posted on Facebook a copy of something that is making its way around social media. And it struck a note with me. It starts out this way…..

For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900. When you are 14, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday with 22 million people killed. Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits…..

The short version of history continues through the Vietnam War. It is a summary of our past, and framed in such a way as to be worthy of a blog post. That is because it strikes a theme I long have argued when confronting our own times and the weighty issues to be considered and dealt with.

One only need to take the roughly 35 years between the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, in 1865, and that of President William McKinley, in 1901 to make the larger point that we have been ‘here’ before.

During those decades the nation experienced an overflow of ineffective politicians, steamy and numerous scandals, the despicable examples of racial backsliding, polarized newspapers and what we term ‘yellow journalism’, dangerous populists who put forth the most ridiculous economic remedies, a growing distrust of those who were rich, born into named families, or those who had undertaken a study in a field so to be a (gasp!) expert, frightening outbreaks of violence and bombings and terrorism, major job losses, anti-immigrant hatred, declining social mobility, giant corporations dominating the economy which bred rising inequality, and the appearance of what some viewed as dangers from both the financial and technology sectors of the economy.

Sounds a lot like what we read in the headlines of our own times.

But what we also know from the headlines of the past, and those which greet us each morning in the newspapers is the importance of knowing our history and learning from it. Having perspectives and insights and being able to put the larger forces at play into a historical context is vital for succeeding generations.

I have thought back over the times of which I write today and land on my Grandma Schwarz to make my point. She picked cotton in Texas at one point in her life, with a sack pulled behind her back, very much akin to pics one might see in books. Decades later in her living room she would watch man land on the moon.

Why I mention this in relation to the posting by my cousin is that it is so important to know from where we came and where we are presently. I recall conversations with grandma about cotton picking and how she would remark about the wonder of the moon landing. When she made those comments she was in her ‘autumn years’ and I was too young to be able to appreciate the span of time in which she viewed the world and her life. Now as I am older and thrilled by history those conversations of her views about the course of the nation resonates more.

I do not wish to downplay or minimize any political, social, or cultural upheaval now underway or pretend in some glib fashion that it will all just ‘get better’. That is not all the lesson we should take from the past which echoes again, but rather learn of the earnestness and applied resources it took to overcome the issues and prevail over them. We did it then, and we can do it now.

I wish more of my fellow citizens would take in and ponder the perspectives of our history. It can lead us forward.

Labor Day Democratic Presidential Rally In Merrill, Wisconsin: 1984 And A WDOR Reporter

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A brief shower failed to dampen the enthusiasm of Democratic Presidential candidate Walter Mondale and Vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro during a Merrill campaign visit. Applauding them is Congressman David Obey who represented that area in Congress.

On Labor Day 1984 I was attending the first major political rally of my life.  It was also the first major political rally that I would report on for WDOR radio news.

I was young, eager, and so excited that I could barely contain myself.  Days before the event I had gone through a background check to gain press credentials which allowed me onto the risers with the national press.  Knowing I was going to stand alongside some of the journalists I had a deep respect for was as electrifying to me as being at a rally with a presidential nominee.

I had traveled from Sturgeon Bay to Lincoln County Fairgrounds in Merrill, Wisconsin in my light blue Chevet and still recall the feeling that life could not be better.  I was doing what I had always really wanted to do, which was get close to politics and report about it.  I knew then not everyone could say they get to live what they dream, and I recall attempts to slow down to better take in every moment, every detail.

Many broadcasters were questioning whether the traditional start of the presidential fall campaign was best done in a place like Merrill.  If memory serves me right Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro started that Labor Day in New York and encountered rainy weather.  That the sky was gray and filled with sprinkles in Merrill was not lost on those who thought it an omen for the election outcome.

But Mondale saw it far differently.  With rolled-up shirtsleeves, Mondale told the audience it did not matter whether it was rain, hail, sleet, or snow.  The Democrats would make it to the polls on Election Day!

Here is the final draft of that speech.

Once at the rally site I climbed to stand with the press and was truly pleased to be about three feet from Lynn Sherr and Brit Hume, both from ABC.  I smiled to myself when Sherr asked Hume how to pronounce “La Follette” and I then laughed out loud later than night when she mispronounced it on the national news.   Everyone has on-air slips, and it was comforting to see it play out in front of me.

To be honest being on the risers with the press could have been the culmination of the day and I would have been totally content.

When the music ramped up and Mondale and Ferraro took the simple outdoor platform and gave punchy dramatic stump speeches I knew at once that my political infection was for real.  Never before had I felt so alive.  So in the moment.

Geraldine Ferraro was loved by that crowd in Merrill.  The applause was enthusiastic, and the warmth for her was genuine.  Later I went down and recorded some interviews with voters and my thrust of the news story was how they viewed the first female nominee.  Ferraro was breaking new ground and they were glad Labor Day in Merrill was where she spent some of her time.

I will never forget that first major rally, the sense of being young and living life.

I am pleased that in some small way I was able to brush up alongside the historic campaign year when Geraldine Ferraro was on a national ticket as the first woman.

As we now observe this Labor Day in a national health crisis and a most troubling presidential election year, there are many reasons for anxieties and dread. But I have found one personal story which has made for smiles in our home.