I volunteered for Eugene McCarthy’s Presidential Campaign when I was a senior in high school. I organized papers, worked phones and canvassed neighborhoods.
My van included three girls who had traveled from Grand Rapids where they were students at Grand Valley State University. With their eye make-up and short, tight pencil skirts they seemed more sophisticated than me. Until the number one song of the day come on the radio. Yummy Yummy Yummy dissolved them into giggling schoolgirls.
Most people would not come to their doors so I just left the flyer. Those who did answer wanted to keep the exchange as brief as possible. I handed them the leaflet and asked for their vote.
There was one right-wing zealot though who wanted to engage. He badgered me with questions without shutting-up long enough for me to answer. I tried to interject a “the domino theory is bogus ” or “too many kids are being killed.” But my rhetorical skills were not nearly as rehearsed nor as deeply entrenched as this Rush Limbaugh-wannabe.
Another targeted voter was a frail, 80 year-old woman. She couldn’t have weighed more than the gossamer, navy voile dress she wore with handkerchief tucked into its cuff. She seemed baffled as to why this child would be ringing the doorbell of her Hansel & Gretel brick home. I gave the McCarthy spiel then handed her the literature. She smiled, “Oh honey I haven’t voted in years, not since the Mister died.”
That senior year my family occasionally attended church. It was a pro-forma, social type of participation rather than one motivated by deeply held beliefs. We never handled the snakes. I sat through the sermons bored out of my mind, fighting off one unpredictable adolescent erection after another.
After the service we stood in line to shake the minister’s hand. He looked like Earl Warren and appeared to be going through the motions as much as we were. To spice things up, I distracted him with a broad smile while extending a hand that was as limp as a dead fish. Awakened from oblivion, he’d shoot me a look like, “Are you okay?” It worked every time.
With the exception of 1888 when native son Benjamin Harrison became President, Indiana never played a more critical political role than the May 1968 Primary. It was the first head-to-head contest between McCarthy and Robert Kennedy. McCarthy had been the more valiant one coming out of nowhere the previous Autumn to confront the establishment. His courageous act solidified the Anti-War Movement.
Kennedy on the other hand seemed more opportunistic. He vacillated until he saw McCarthy’s success in the early primaries. Then he announced his candidacy. I was conflicted between fulfilling my commitment and the seduction of charisma. I worked for Gene but my heart belonged to Bobby.
When Kennedy visited Fort Wayne I was part of the pandemonium in the Concordia College Gymnasium. A band played as we awaited his late arrival and the Concordia High School Jazz Choir sang. I didn’t know her yet but Marilyn’s voice was part of that ensemble. Undoubtedly making a significant contribution to the chaotic atmosphere.
The gym erupted when RFK finally entered through the doorway nearest me. Amidst the pushing and shoving, he looked disoriented swimming up an aisle of extended palms. He concentrated on pressing as many as he could without actually acknowledging anyone. As he approached mine I thought of the Pastor’s Secret Handshake. It worked again. Bobby’s head snapped back in a double take and I made direct eye contact with history.
Save for my work at the polls this June, I haven’t done much electioneering since high school. Until I was approached to become part of a phone tree to recruit poll observers for the upcoming Nevada elections. Phoning is not my cup of tea even when I’m told exactly what to say. But there are some friends I just can’t deny.
Carl was my boss for two decades and can play me like a violin. He makes me feel like I’m the one in charge as he gets me to do everything he wants.
He’s also aware of my limitations. When asked to stick to a script my manner can be as stiff as, well, sitting through one of those childhood sermons. He won’t be too surprised to hear that I made the case without relying on the words precisely as written.
I think I helped the cause although I’m not really sure what I said to those people. I do know, however, that on the Saturday before the election I’ve somehow organized a party bus leaving from Elko and headed up to the Pocatello Race Track. Should be fun.