It’s time to make history, one day at a time

Jeff vonKaenel

Over the years, I have experienced many ups and downs. On the whole, I’ve had more ups than downs. I feel blessed.

My life is fine. My kids are well. My wife and I still love each other after 41 years. I have already had 15 more years than my dad spent on the planet.

That said, I am worried about the planet I will leave to my children. Especially since Donald Trump took over our government. Global warming, growing economic and social inequality. A right-wing Supreme Court and trade wars. Tax cuts for the rich. Kissing up to Russia and voter suppression.

Since Trump took office, I have been in permanent fight-or-flight mode—or more accurately, despair-and-determination mode. Some days, it’s just too much and I want to give up. Other days it seems like I’m living in a Marvel comic book where the fate of the universe is dependent upon our actions.

But I have lived long enough to know despair is never justified, and that there are no easy victories. Life and history come one day at a time. And it is what you do in those days that determines both. While many problems exist, we have also had many victories. Gay marriage. Cleaner air. An African-American president. The Affordable Care Act. Things I never expected to see.

In 1969, the year I started college at U.C. Santa Barbara, an extremely controversial sociology professor, Dick Flacks, also started teaching at the campus by the beach.

Dick was one of the original members of the Students for a Democratic Society, the leading anti-Vietnam War group of the early ’60s. As a professor, his academic focus was political sociology and social movements. I took many wonderful classes from Dick. While Dick is a brilliant scholar, he is an even better human being.

As a University of Chicago faculty member, Dick was in his office when a person attacked him with something like a crowbar, leaving his skull dented in two places and his right hand severed at the wrist. His assailant was never found. At the time, the Chicago police had a reputation for violent attacks against leftist activists.

If there ever was a person who should be bitter and angry, it should be Dick. But he was not. Instead, he was a funny, optimistic, generous and wise soul.

When, after finishing my college education, I went to Dick for career advice, he suggested that I join the Santa Barbara News & Review. He did not tell me that the paper had so little money that they paid no salaries. I took the job anyway. After my meager savings ran out, I went home to San Jose to sell Fuller Brush door-to-door to make enough money to return to the newspaper.

While Dick may have been lacking as a financial adviser, he had great insight into political history. He told me that when you ask people to take risks to help others, nine out of 10 will say no. But with that one person out of 10, you can change the world. I have been trying very hard over the last 45 years to follow Dick’s example.

It is not a time for despair. It is a time for making history, one day at a time.

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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.