Making history

Jeff vonKaenel

As the election returns came rolling in, I was horrified. Not because my candidate lost, but because of who won. The winning candidate encouraged hate and abused the political and legal system for his personal benefit. He had so little moral character.

But what hurt the most was what the election revealed about the America that l love very deeply. There is a dark side to America, which was revealed to me that election night in November 1972, when President Richard Nixon won reelection against George McGovern.

McGovern had pledged to end the Vietnam War. This war had killed many of my classmates and left so many more wounded, both physically and mentally. It was destroying another country and corrupting the very soul of our own. This election meant the Vietnam War would go on, and Nixon’s attacks on minorities would continue, as would his illegal use of the FBI and CIA.

Similarly, the danger of Donald Trump and a Republican Congress filled with tea partiers is real. He already tapped a climate change denier to oversee the transition of the Environmental Protection Agency, said that he would end Obamacare, which has given 20 million Americans health care, and proposed even more tax cuts for the rich, which will reduce support for the poor. His hateful campaign has unleashed those who want to attack minorities, Muslims and LGBT citizens. He’s promised to nominate reactionary Supreme Court justices to roll back a woman’s ability to control her own body. All of this is very frightening.

This election, like the 1972 election, is a wake-up call. The clear and present danger of the Trump presidency is a painful reminder of what is at stake as a result of our actions and inactions.

It was shortly after the November 1972 election that my future wife Deborah Redmond and I joined a small group of anti-war and civil rights movement people who had started an alternative newspaper in Santa Barbara. This paper covered issues and people who were being ignored by the mainstream news media. And we were not alone.

Around the country, people did not give up after the 1972 election, but dug in for a longer struggle. Some started progressive organizations, some volunteered, some demonstrated and some donated. Their efforts made a difference.

One of the founders of the Santa Barbara News & Review where Deborah and I worked was a key organizer of the anti-Vietnam War movement, sociology professor Dick Flacks, my teacher at University of California, Santa Barbara. Dick had a theory about history: That there is a small elite, those who run large corporations and institutions, elected officials and others, who in their everyday life make decisions that make history. The rest of us may not have the opportunity in our daily lives to make history. But everyone can volunteer, demonstrate, donate and join with others. Look at the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the environmental movement, the labor movement, Occupy, Black Lives Matter and so on. These movements made and continue to make history.

Dick also told me that if you ask people to join a movement to stand up to power, most will say no. Nine out of 10 will say no. But one person will say yes. And with one out of 10 people you can change the world.

I am asking you.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.