… all those nights spent around the ping pong table … were worth it because they helped to do something that saved the town where we live.
Thinking about how it was I got into journalism and got into a type of journalism that involves helping citizens do their work as citizens, I realized it’s really just duplicating my father’s life.
My father was a WWII vet, came back from the war to his home in Cleveland, brought over a war bride, my mother was a British clerk in the Royal Navy; they met at a USO dance in England. He started working as a printer at the Cleveland Press newspaper and going to school at nights at Case Western Reserve in political science. Had a degree in political science. Though he worked as a printer his true vocation was really that thing that some people are so dismissive of in some quarters – community organizing. He was a labor organizer, a union president; he was very active in Democratic Party politics; he was a ward leader. For most of the time when I was a kid, our household was on campaign standing.
The union he belonged to, the International Typographical Union, was an oddity in that in had within it two political parties: the progressives and the independents. And my father was the president of the IIP Party. And every two years they had an international election – a little crazy – every two years they had an exercise in union democracy. So our basement with a ping pong table was converted into campaign headquarters. My brother and I would make our allowance by sitting down at the ping pong table at night stuffing envelopes full of campaign literature for the various guys my father was backing.
Then my father got very involved in politics in the community where I grew up, Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He was a ward leader and ran for city council. The theme running through all that – there were two themes: one, that engagement matters if you want to make the place you work or the place where you live a better place, you get involved, you take risks; and that also meant that my father frequently ran for office. He frequently ran and he frequently lost. He had three or four terms as president of the local union: ITU Local #53, in Cleveland. But he also frequently got voted of office; and then ran again the next time around and lost. He lost more than he won, I think by a significant margin, largely because he was a college-educated man in a union that was full of – how do I say this politely? – hillbillies just up from West Virginia. It was a time when computers and electronic typesetting was coming into newspapers. The handwriting was on the wall for the craft that he learned in high school and practiced for most of his life; setting hot type was a skill that was going the way of making buggy whips. He was aware of it and his focus as union rep was getting his guys re-trained into doing the kinds of jobs that newspapers would still have to do.
So fast forward a few years. I’m visiting my oldest friends, who still live in Cleveland Heights right near the high school where we both went. And they have a – in the room where they have me sleep there is a history of Cleveland Heights, Ohio. So I sit down and read it and in that history my father and the guys he was in – with in terms of the reform movement in Democratic politics or in local politics in Cleveland Heights – have a major role as the people who eventually broke down four years of rather high handed and somewhat corrupt Republican reign in the town and brought in a reform Democratic government there. Now I’m not necessarily saying that Democrats are always about reform but in this case they were. I had never known that.
In a sense 40 some years later I found out that all those nights spent around the ping pong table and all the nights spent away from home with my mother angry at him in a sense were worth it because they helped to do something that saved the town where we live.
You shouldn’t commit to doing this kind of stuff—working on community or politics or government – if your focus is merely winning or your focus is on immediate payback. The famous line from Martin Luther King is “the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice.” That’s about faith. That’s about faith that what you’re doing is going to make a difference in the long run even if in the short run it seems stubbornly and mystifyingly unsuccessful.
It also is about faith because you have to have faith that what you do matters even if it doesn’t reap you any immediate applause or victories or votes or office because it didn’t often for my father.
My brother, who couldn’t be more different from me in a lot of ways – he’s sort of a hermit, he lives in the Berkshires, he takes a lot of long, solitary walks and attempts to avoid human contact wherever possible – just looks at me and shakes his head and laughs and says, “Boy, are you dad’s boy. You are just like him. You are as ridiculously optimistic and ridiculously idealistic.” It’s true. It started around a ping pong table and it hasn’t ended.
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist
9:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist with music
10:00 a.m. Parish Forum & Kairos
10:15 a.m. worship.together
Holy Eucharist for families with young children
11:15 a.m. Choral Eucharist
Silent morning meditation is offered at 8:15 a.m. weekdays, in the Mary Chapel.
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This Episcopal church is located in the heart of the historic neighborhood of Chestnut Hill, five blocks west of Germantown Avenue at the corner of St. Martin’s Lane and West Willow Grove Avenue.