Home-schooled in civics

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Shortly after graduating from the University of Missouri, my parents moved to Colorado, where my father had been offered a job by the Farmers Union. Fans of Henry Wallace -- FDR's one-term vice president who was too far left even for most members of his own party -- my parents looked forward to a new life of progressive politics and community involvement in the growing western city of Denver.

While my dad studied for the Colorado Bar exam and sold televisions to make ends meet, my folks met like-minded citizens in Farmers Union sessions my parents called "bomb-throwing school."

My earliest memories of dinner-table conversation were all about politics and elections and how hard it was to live in the most Republican precinct in the overwhelmingly Republican county of Jefferson, flanking Denver's west side. I remember the election of 1972, when my father was Colorado chairman of the McGovern campaign, and the phone would ring late at night with callers making death threats and accusing him of being a Communist. I remember my school principal publicly calling my mother, who was president of the PTA, "that wild-eyed radical."

I also remember getting an earful from my father when I called him "bourgeois" after he installed a garage-door opener.

Today, I am thankful that my parents are not here to see the mess that is politics in America, and the astonishingly low standard their beloved democracy tolerates within the executive and legislative branches. I'm sorry my father didn't live long enough to see the first black president inaugurated, and thankful that my mother did. On election eve 2016, I was so sad that she hadn't lived to vote for and elect the first female president, and 24 hours later, I was grateful for her demise the year before, because Trump's election surely would have killed her.

Today, I mourn the state of my former employer, the Los Angeles Times, a once-great paper that's still very good despite years of incompetent, venal, craven leadership. I can practically hear my father snorting at the idea that white-collar workers need union protection. "Unions," he once said, if memory serves, "are not for pilots. They're for the baggage-handlers." Today, I'm sad that my labor-loving, journalism-degreed parents didn't live to see L.A. Times journalists unionize in response to years of shabby treatment and the compromised expectations acceptable to the brass but not to them.

If my 8-year-old self felt bored and sometimes marginalized by my parents' immersion in All Things Political, my aging, orphaned self appreciates that their kind of passion is what keeps America and its institutions on the right side of history. They taught me that there is no excuse for not being aware. And that you can have both awareness and a garage-door opener.


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