Editor’s Note: Webster is the pseudonym of a long-time grass roots activist that recently presented this at an Americans for Prosperity event in La Crosse.
When I was first approached about speaking at an Americans for Prosperity event titled “”What’s the point?” I understood the theme to be closer to “Why do I keep doing it?” (The definition of “it” is what you & I call “grass roots politics”.) From there, the theme quickly evolved into:
“Why wouldn’t I do it?”
And, to answer the question “Why wouldn’t I do it?” I need to share what this country has allowed me to do, how blessed we as Americans really are, and why this country is really worth fighting for. To do that I will take the next eight or ten minutes and share some of my life experiences from the past sixty years.
Sixty years ago – 1961 – I was in Junior High, active in 4-H, and living in New Hampshire. I took my dairy animals to the three fairs in my home county and there met a man (white shirt, necktie, sleeves rolled up) routinely at the front gate and shaking everyone’s hand. He was our Congressman – “Landslide” Jim Cleveland. We became good friends.
A few years later, as a senior in High School, I took a “Documentary US History” course where we read and studied original documents. For example, we didn’t just read about the Federalist Papers we read the Federalist Papers. I well remember when we got to the mid-1860s and had already studied Lincoln’s failures, the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, and much of the Civil War. We had an unannounced quiz and the only question was “Abe Lincoln was a good guy. Discuss.” We were expected to write for the entire class period and give supporting references.
Upon High School graduation in 1965 I had an opportunity to spend 10 weeks with a family in Santiago, Chile. Let me share two things from that trip. First, the walls in their homes were very plain and blank except for two framed black and white pictures: the Pope and the late American President John F. Kennedy. They challenged me why those two pictures. Chile was a Catholic country and the picture of the Pope was a no-brainer. And then I boasted that JFK’s picture was because he was the first Catholic US President. Wrong. JFK had introduced the Peace Corps and until that time they heard about American Foreign Aid, but had never seen any of it. With the Peace Corps, there were people from the United States at their side trying to improve their lives – giving of time and talent to improve the lives of the people in Chile. The second was the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, ---the same Adlai Stevenson that Eisenhower had beaten twice for President -- dropped dead on a street in London and I had people I did not know expressing heartfelt condolences on the loss of a great American statesman. This just personified for me the cliché that when America speaks, the world listens!
In the summer of 1967 I was invited to attend a Campaign Management Seminar run by Howard Phillips – later the founder and chairman of the Conservative Caucus. This led to being asked to be on the New Hampshire for Nixon Executive Committee – a select group of 110 leaders in New Hampshire’s business, industry, & government and two college students (one of which was me). I was one of four or five college students to talk with candidate Nixon for a couple of hours one Saturday morning and later met him on two other occasions. I still think my Congressman and friend “Landslide” Jim Cleveland was involved!
After college, I was drafted into the Army. After training, my first duty station as an Army Food Inspector was just blocks from here at a Swift butter plant on South 3rd Street. Two years later I married a Wisconsin farm girl – it will be 49 years the end of May!
In 1975 the Army sent us to Bremerhaven, West Germany for three years. Highlights there included visiting the Concentration Camp where Annie Frank and 50,000 others died; visiting Berlin and looking across the Berlin Wall into East Berlin, and inspecting food on the German economy being purchased for the US Forces. Two stories stick out: first I did a lot of overnight trips to an egg packing plant and one time the bed & breakfast had no rooms available but the proprietor sent me to a neighboring hotel. That hotel manager graciously welcomed me with “You are Herr _____ American Friend”. Let that greeting sink in for just a moment: “American friend”. The other story I will share involves potato inspections where the potatoes were loaded on a rail car to go through East Germany into West Berlin. The most critical part of the inspection was to certify all the rail car doors and other openings were sealed shut with ¼” steel rod twisted three times – not to keep the potatoes from being stolen but to keep the East Germans from escaping to freedom! And, on the 4th of July 1976, our Nation’s Bicentennial, I was on an overnight road trip, sitting alone in a German guesthouse, thinking two hundred years is a long time! Then I picked up the coaster and read “Hometown Brewery, Since 1492” and realized just how young our country actually is! During this three year period I spent a lot of nights and weekends in the classroom and earned a Master of Education degree.
Assignment to Philadelphia followed where we visited Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, ventured to Valley Forge and Pennsylvania Dutch country, even to Washington, D.C. and to the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. An assignment to Historic Fort Sam Houston, TX with visits to the Alamo, the LBJ boyhood home and ranch, and a trip to Mexico followed.
In 1984 we went to Stuttgart, Germany for three years. One long weekend we travelled through the Benelux Countries (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg) where we saw many, many American WWII tanks and signs “Patton was here”. We also visited a huge American Cemetery with hundreds, probably thousands, of grave markers from WWII American Soldiers that had given their lives to free Europe from Hitler’s Nazism. One Christmas Eve we entertained a German lady that shared her story how she had been in Berlin the day the Wall went up and the food market was on the other side of the Wall – such an emotional story!
The last four years of my Army career were at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland which allowed us to become very familiar with Washington, D.C. and the mid-Atlantic region to include Gettysburg, PA and Annapolis, MD. In 1989 the Berlin Wall and the entire Iron Curtain fell. I have the 1989 Christmas letter from a German friend that wrote “John, I want to thank you and your American Soldier friends, for without you I could have never gone home again!” He was a young boy in WWII when his family left his hometown in what became East Germany. Although his family only moved about an hour away but into what became West Germany, he hadn’t been able to visit his hometown in forty-five years!
Although stationed in Maryland, Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm were the significant end point in my Army career. I was able to be in Washington D.C. for the National Homecoming Parade and Celebration and saw General Norman Schwartzkof and the Soldiers march down Constitution Avenue.
For the next twenty years after Army retirement, I worked training Medics and other Soldiers going into harm’s way in the War on Terror. My wife and I have also been able to travel a bit and see more of this great country to include:
- Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
- D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA
- Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA
- Korean War & Dr. Martin Luther King Memorials in Washington, D.C.
- Eight Presidential Historical Sites –(museums, birthplaces, boyhood homes)
And, folks, while the most personal was just a few years ago seeing my own name on a plaque in my boyhood hometown, the most emotional was the World War II Memorial in the middle of the Mall in Washington, D.C. We were only at the World War II Memorial a very few minutes when I stopped, and with a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat, tried to tell my wife that this Memorial was to her Dad and mine – for her Dad had served in North Africa and mine in the South Pacific in World War II. Then, a few steps later we noticed two young Girl Scouts with a basket of flowers walking quietly by the state monuments until they found a particular one where they stopped, quietly paused, stepped forward and placed the basket at the base of the monument, stepped backward, paused again, and quietly left.
And so my friends, tonight we ask “What’s the point?” and my answer is another question “Why wouldn’t I do it?”
“It” – you know, “grass roots politics” such as door knocking, lit drops, phone calls, parades, fair booths, meet & greets, letters to editors, letters to legislatures, campaign signs, testifying to school boards & local government, or even the state legislature, peaceful demonstrations, rallies, and probably more!
I do it for all Americans of former, present, and future generations like those two little girls at the World War II Memorial. Maybe I should answer by singing that grand old hymn America, the Beautiful but instead will quote just the 3rd verse:
“Oh Beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, Who more than self their Country loved, and Liberty more than life.”