When I was a kid protesting the war in Vietnam, picketing Safeway in solidarity with the UFW, attending political rallies of all sorts, and tagging along with my parents as they worked on the campaigns of Wayne Morse, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, and Jerry Brown, were some of the major activities that occupied our evenings and weekends. We watched the Democratic conventions on television and talked politics constantly. We had a Shirley Chisholm for President poster on our wall for years. My best friend’s father was such a hero of the Portland Democratic party that there is an annual party fundraiser in his honor. These pastimes were not relegated to the world of adults. These were family activities.
Cosseted in this environment, my surprise when I found that Richard Nixon had been elected to the presidency was deep and rending. We had been to a rally the night before. My parents had broken the news to us that McCarthy was going to lose, but I didn’t believe it. No one wanted the war. Everyone hated Nixon. I could not imagine even one person I knew voting for Nixon, except maybe my grandfather. But I was 7, and of course that, particular election cycle was far more complex than I could understand at the time. I don’t remember being aware that Humphrey was even a candidate.
1972 was less hyped up for me; my parent’s marriage was disintegrating and I spent most of that summer at camp. However, we were all in for McGovern. I remember getting a letter from my cousin while at camp in which she described the Democratic National Convention in great detail and had covered the back of the envelope with McGovern slogans. I was every bit as shocked, maybe even more, when Nixon won AGAIN. I just could not understand it – who was voting for this man? Once again, probably my grandfather and NO ONE ELSE. Imagine if I had understood how thoroughly he had been trounced.
Fast forward: Ronald Reagan. What a shithead. I was, to put it mildly, not a fan in 1980. But jeez, I really hated him by 1984. I had my own life, my own politics, by this time. Reagan being re-elected was unthinkable to me. I was horrified to find that most of the people I worked with weren’t registered to vote. My strategy to beat Reagan was to get them all registered. More than half of them registered as Republicans. I simply could not wrap my brain around this. I was not surprised but was every bit as devastated and confused as similar losses from my childhood left me, when Reagan was elected to a second term.
And so on with both of the Bush presidencies. I had a newborn baby when H.W. won and remember our frat-ish neighbors having a loud, awful testosterone filled party the night he won. I despaired. I still can’t talk about the wins of the younger, although he is looking less awful every day.
This last election took me all the way back. My magical thinking – I don’t know anyone who voted for this guy, ergo he can’t possibly win – is long gone, replaced by what I flatter myself to think of as reason. I have had the experience of voting for someone I was truly excited about and seeing them win and govern well. But 10 months after the last election, I’m still the little girl in a room full of adults rendered speechless, kicking deflated balloons, and wondering what happens next.
Wayne Morse: https://www.oldimprints.com/pages/books/53586/oregon-politics-wayne-morse-re-election-poster/wayne-morse-and-the-united-states-senate-november-5
Nixon Button: https://fontsinuse.com/uses/2397/richard-nixon-1968-presidential-campaign-butt
McGovern Button: http://www.loriferber.com/mcgovern-in-72-button-day-glow-orange.html
Reagan Mask: https://www.halloweencostumes.com/ronald-reagan-mask.html
Vintage Poster: https://www.nationaljournal.com/s/49906/photos-wwi-propaganda-posters