Growing up in the 60s was not an easy thing. My dad was a newspaperman and believed in educating his children about current events, which I am mostly thankful for. I often went out to cover important stories with him and, as a family, we watched the TV news every evening, often during dinner. In 1963, we watched a Buddhist monk set himself on fire and burn to death while we were eating, or trying to eat, a meatloaf TV dinner. We watched shootings of our leaders, Viet Nam war footage, Civil Rights demonstrations, student demonstrations, police brutality and more while having our family dinners. No wonder I ended up with anorexia and weighed 80 pounds all through high school. I still have trouble remembering to eat sometimes.
After the news was over, the TV was shut off, and we would discuss these current topics. I was always on the side of the underdog and even back then, leaned very sharply to the left. Everyone else in the family was staunch conservative. My brother even joined the John Birch Society as a young adult. Despite my different opinions, or maybe because of them, I learned to look at all sides of an issue and try to find a middle ground.
I was born and raised in Stamford, Connecticut in Fairfield County. The Bushes and Kennedys lived in Greenwich, our neighboring town. Paul Newman and many other Hollywood icons, lived in Westport, which was also very close by. Greenwich was full of old money, while Stamford and surrounding areas was filled with new money. Thrown into the mix were all the working-class and lower middle-class families trying to survive. Then, there were the Blacks and Hispanics who were relegated to the downtown ghetto. I never even saw a person of color, except on TV and movies, until I was 19 when I worked at a downtown bank. I occasionally went downtown to go shopping, but the stores were far enough away from the “bad” section of town that I never encountered anyone even slightly different from the usual waspy residents. The exception to this were the Jewish shopkeepers.
In 1969, during the height of the Civil Rights protests, I overheard my mom and dad talking about fires and looting happening in Stamford. Curious, I rushed in and asked about it. Dad told me that the negros were burning and looting their own neighborhoods. I didn’t understand why they would do that. Why not go to the rich neighborhoods and burn them down? Dad answered that it was because they were ignorant and hotheaded and, thankfully, never really thought things through. I knew this was not the right answer, but quickly asked if I could go with him to the paper while he put these stories together. I often accompanied him to cover stories and helped at the office, running copy and writing headlines. Dad, who was the City Editor at that time, told me they weren’t going to publish these stories. I was aghast. This was big news, right in our own town. How could the local newspaper ignore this story? He explained, that was just exactly what they were looking for, and he wasn’t going to give it to them. It was all just a publicity stunt. I pleaded in vain, trying to get him to see how important it was for the townspeople to be aware of their conditions and valid complaints. He never gave in, I didn’t get to go with him, and the safe, comfortable white people in Stamford never got to read about this important event. I was dumbfounded.
Dad was also a political reporter and columnist, so I grew up surrounded by politicians and saw corruption first-hand. I watched well-meaning kind people be changed by power. I saw them use their power to get ahead and help their friends get ahead. I saw them use their power to destroy their enemies. I saw them use their power to get away with crimes. And I was disgusted by this misuse of the trust given to them by their neighbors and friends. One of our closest family friends, a lawyer, was involved in a huge corruption scandal. He got off and was given a job as the Public Defender, which paid him less than he had been making, but enabled him to remain a lawyer. Another close family friend was appointed the Publics Works Commissioner. Every Fourth of July, we would go to his home for a picnic, where he would hang out the Confederate Flag, shoot off his cannons, and blast “Dixie” on his stereo in the direction of Jackie Robinson’s house, who lived two doors down.
As a child, I saw power as a tool of oppression and a vile, hurtful thing. I can’t remember a single time when I felt as though it was used for good. I look at the world today and the people in power and still don’t see any difference. Even the so called good people eventually must play the game to get ahead. They’re forced to cut deals and agree to distasteful things to make some of the changes they see as necessary. I’ve seen that power corrupts and is corrupt, absolutely!