Friday, October 15, 2021
Oct. 15, 2021

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Press Talk: Being relentless is the key

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We were trapped.

It was May 1970, and I found myself on the Quad at the University of Illinois surrounded by National Guardsmen. I was in the middle of a huge student gathering protesting the Vietnam War. Apparently the guardsmen were in no mood to talk.

With little warning the bum’s rush was on. Wildly swinging their clubs, they easily herded us all onto waiting buses, then to the National Guard Armory (we were too many for the jail) where we awaited our fate. The student I was with had been working a guardsman on the bus, and when we arrived at the armory, she approached him again. They spoke, she pointed at me, and to my astonishment we were both let go.

That evening we rejoined the protesters who were not arrested. And it was there that I heard the best speech ever given.

A beleaguered guy, not much older than me, stepped to an open air podium and microphone. He spread his arms and moved them slowly downward to ask for silence. The angry and anxious crowd obliged him. Then he spoke.

“We’ve got to get our &*%# together. Because if we don’t get our &*%# together we ain’t &*%# !”

The gathering thundered. There was no turning back. Change was coming.

• • •

Change is not easy. And often it isn’t pretty. That’s why it so rarely happens. So I looked back at the turbulent 1960s and early 1970s — I was also in the Chicago area during the 1968 Democratic National Convention — to see what made change work.

Understanding how to make change work is important today. I’ve been spending most of this winter in Florida, 150 miles away from the devastating high school massacre in Parkland. The students there are beginning a journey that many before them have attempted, but no one has completed:

Enacting comprehensive gun control to try to stop the violence.

It’s not the only appalling thing in the news. Late last week, Washington state legislators rushed to pass a law that essentially exempts themselves from public disclosure laws. It was inappropriate, it was egregious and it was dangerous. On Thursday, after it looked like the law would go into effect, Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed it. So why did Inslee do the right thing?

Before we understand how to enact change, we have to understand why it so rarely occurs. Whispered in the hallways of Olympia, the back rooms of Clark County and lobbyists’ office across the land is this powerful mantra:

“This too shall pass.”

In other words, don’t worry about doing stupid stuff. Yep, let the masses yell. They’ll soon feel better, and then we can get back to doing the same ol’, same ol’.

With that in mind, whose fault is it that we rarely change? Yep. It ain’t the Legislature. It ain’t the NRA. It’s us, my friends. It’s us.

So how do we change to make change? Being passionate is important. No question. But we’ve seen passion aplenty when politicians do stupid stuff. Not much happens. So what’s the secret ingredient, the secret sauce?

Being persistent. Being relentless.

We didn’t finally get out of the Vietnam War because some politician — on his own — thought it was a good move. We got out of the war because protesters were relentless.

In the late ’60s the rallying cry was “This too shall not pass.”

It feels like the Florida students are poised to be relentless. It’s too early to tell. But they have an opportunity.

And even though the Washington Legislature will now get a second chance at opening its closed process, the public must continue to be relentless.

Looking at Democratic state Rep. Sharon Wylie’s Facebook page — right after she voted to limit the public’s right to access legislative records — was a fascinating study of what could only be described as blind faith. She was explaining why her vote to limit access was proper. (It should be noted she now admits that vote was a mistake.)

I quickly got on her Facebook page to let her know she was wrong. I took some heat from some of her other Facebook friends — no big deal — but what surprised me were people who wrote they were with her regardless.

Huh?

“I trust you. Whatever you decide upon this bill, the good the bad, whatever you decide — I will abide by.”

Here’s another one: “I don’t fully understand this bill but I do 110 percent trust Sharon Wylie.”

Wrong answer. In fact, Wylie — who to her credit now says she made a mistake on that vote — probably wishes she didn’t so quickly trust herself. Again, give her credit.

Very few people deserve unconditional support. Frankly, I can’t think of any politicians to put in that category. There should be consequences for bad decisions. Because if politicians believe all their past good decisions gets them a pass on bad decisions — especially decisions that weaken democracy — say a prayer for our children.

So keep pressing legislators to make sure they do the right things. Support those kids in Florida. And above all…be relentless.

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