There is much more to come, but at least the first few hours were civil enough to allow me to jot down some thoughts during the breaks to reflect on earlier impeachment inquiries that have occurred during my lifetime: That of Richard Nixon and, to a lesser degree, Bill Clinton. Contrary to my grandkids’ perspective of my advanced age, I have no knowledge of President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment inquiry, nor did I come to Oregon on a covered wagon.
There were amateurish break-ins, multiple chapters, stories and verse of who did what, to who and when, along with climatic announcements unveiled each week. There were conspiracy theories, book deals, and prime time television antics. We were shocked by President Nixon’s crude language and demeaning treatment of others, as well as the ongoing stream of lies that seemed to personify his method of leadership, all memorialized on the hidden White House tapes.
And then there was the infamous four-minute gap in the tapes the president’s secretary claimed was a slip of her foot on the recording pedal.
The backdrop to all this high crimes and misdemeanor was the fact that our country was emotionally reeling from the years of constant streaming of horrific scenes of the Vietnam War played out in our living rooms night after night on prime-time television. The image of napalm-soaked toddlers fleeing the fires that engulfed them and the execution of a Vietnamese soldier, handgun pressed to his head, brains exploding outward, forever imbedded in my psyche. We were hypersensitized rather than desensitized.
We only had four television channels in the ‘60s: ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS. All covered the Watergate hearings, preempting the daily soap operas with a long running reality show. I was as much fascinated by my father’s immersion in the hearings as I was with the underbelly of politics, being a naïve 22-year-old who had studied sociology and political science in college for the past three years. My father was the least political person I knew, yet his interest in the hearings changed my impression of him. His common-sense political view became the foundation of my own political being, with a focus on service and civil rights.
I was inspired by the Kennedy Administration, the Vista and Peace Corps that brought leadership to a local level. My naivetie was shattered by the series of assassinations in the ‘60s, President John F. Kennedy, Bobbie Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcom X. What could be done to change our leaders’ indiscretions, fascination with war, misappropriation of funds, underlying racism? There were church bombings and peace marches, bus rides and lynchings. There was the slaughter of students at Kent State and Watts race riots. Our fear of one another increased.
Life was easier when I was young. I grew up in rural Hood River in the ‘50s, fearing the Russians and atomic bombs. The enemy was from the outside rather than inside. I knew where the local bomb shelters were located.
We practiced hiding beneath our desks, seeking protection, not from live shooters, but from screaming sirens warning of incoming atomic bombs. We were evacuated to the fire station or the basement of the county courthouse to wait in the safety of their concrete block walls. We poured over plans for building personal bomb shelters or minimally filling our cellar shelves with canned food, bleach and water bottles, propane heaters, blankets and tarps. An emergency box of medical supplies was always kept nearby.
We lived through the polio epidemic and willingly lined up for polio vaccines. As young children, we were thrilled when we received oral vaccines rather than needle injections.
Our trust in authority wavered with each revelation. That path of mistrust solidified throughout the decades from Nixon’s resignation and pardon, through Clinton’s impeachment hearings, and now the POTUS.
It was a series of exciting gatherings where local law enforcement, school administrators, representatives of church, parole and probation, the media, parents, business community, Regional Health Equity Coalition, Familias Unidas, courts, school board members, Jesuit Volunteers, the history museum and The Next Door Inc. all gathered to affirm their commitment to making this community inclusive for all people, and a safe, healthy place to live.
The coalition has moved into a position where they can continue to grow their dreams for their families and their community. They have much to celebrate with successes in Latino graduation rates, reduction in juvenile and adult crime, increased bonding to community through the Community ID and Odell Mural Projects, and increased respect for the Latino language and culture.
We have Spanish language immersion in our schools, at least two Spanish language radio stations, Latino outreach workers at the History Museum of Hood River County, Market de Valle, Gorge Grown Food Network, Columbia Center for the Arts and Hood River County Library District. Our focus has shifted from equality to equity, a significant shift in making a positive difference in all our lives.
As we sharpen our focus on building a Hispanic Youth Leadership Council, we have an opportunity to continue the positivity with yet another generation.
The classmates my children grew up with are now serving on local, state and national councils. They are teachers, doctors, farmers and lawyers.
They continue to serve and work collectively to make this valley the very best it can be.
It is the best of times and the worst of times.