Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What Got You Started?

How did you end up being a progressive? For me, it was Harry Chapin.

I was a member of the class of '76 -- the bicentennial class at Ward Melville HS in Setauket, NY. Our class advisors were working with teachers in California, and we thought we would do a cross-country exchange to celebrate the bicentennial of our nation. But we needed money.

I loved Harry's music, and he lived just up the road a piece on Long Island, and his home phone number was in the book. Even then, I thought, "What the Hell?" and called him. He came right to the phone and I made my pitch to invite him to do a benefit concert to help us raise money. After he finished laughing out loud, he said, "You come from one of the wealthiest school districts on all of Long Island! [we lived in the middle class part -- not the rich part] How selfish of you to ask ME to come and help YOU raise money! You've got my number. Call me back if you can think of somebody beside yourselves for a change."

I was stunned and then I got angry. Who was he to suggest I was selfish? I had to prove him wrong. So, I searched and searched and discovered that the local seeing eye dog foundation would have to close the end of the following month unless they raised $10K and that would get them matching funds.

So, I called Harry back and said we needed to save the dogs. LSS, he came to our HS. Spent the day in the music department (where I lived back then), did workshops with budding songwriters, and played some tunes he was working on (most notably, Bummer)

He did an afternoon concert for students and another that night for the community. We raised a lot of money, but did not meet the $10K goal. I drove over to the dog foundation and apologized for not raising it all. The director told me they were all set. There, in her drawer, was a check for the difference --- written by Harry Chapin.

That experience changed my life forever. As a nurse, I have spent my life helping to make other people's lives (or sometimes, deaths) better for my being there. I had a near-death experience 3 years later, and since I was sent back, I figure I have work to do -- to carry on Harry's legacy -- after he tragically died in a fiery crash on the Long Island Expressway at age 39. I had tickets to see him here in CT the next night. That's why I'm here -- a proud, progressive democrat.

What path brought you here?

P.S. If you are not familiar with Harry's work beyond music, here is his obit from Rolling Stone. I'm sure he would be singing for Ned today.


Anonymous said...

What got me started, my parents. I was dragged to fund raisers and clam bakes. We put bumper stickers on our bikes. I remember my mother going over and over a seconding speach for Chris Dodd when he ran for Connecticuts second CD. My father working in vain to try and set aside a wonderful piece of land for public use. Of course there must be something more, something deep in the values my parents gave me. I don't just do these things out of habbit, I do them because I'm so lucky and I can't help feel for those who arn't.

Things haven't changed, I went to peace rallys with my parents and worked for Howard Dean with my mother. My parents got me started by giving me an example and teaching me empathy.

(Great post)

Anonymous said...

My parents died when I was young. My elderly (childless) aunt raised me. Born in 1890, she and her two sisters were suffragettes and fought to get the right to vote for women. She was tireless in her advocacy for Democratic politics and loved Al Smith, and later FDR. "A gallant leader" she would say.
She died in 1977 - her legacy is the women's vote.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

For me, rather than one specific event, it was more of a gradual realization (beginning in high school) that I have both the right and the obligation to be of some service to the greater good.

On the surface, many people do seem to experience a specific event that lights a metaphorical fuse. Below the surface, however, I think all of us ride some form of unseen spiritual current that allows us to sense our connection with all of mankind, if we choose to do so.

If we are willing and able to recognize the nature of our connection with the rest of humanity, we're likely to support progressive candidates. If not, we're likely to spend our lives doing nothing but attempting to maximize our net worth and voting Republican.

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