By Catherine Mahrholz
“Liberal – not narrow in opinion or judgment: tolerant” – The Merriam Webster Dictionary
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for Cat’s Corner. Some of you may remember one or two of my previous scribblings.
In future columns I’d like to share what I think is a slightly different perspective on various aspects of American culture and society.
An ailment known as “cat scratch fever” involves feline scratches to the skin that feel itchy and irritated. As Cat, I want to scratch your brain and give you pause. No matter what your political stripe, we need more discourse, more conversations about where this Republic known as the United States of America is going. I find certain aspects of life here in America to be somewhat disturbing or troubling, yet there are reasons for hope and optimism, too.
My mother and father instilled in my brother and me a strong conviction that there are two sides to every issue. For me, this often causes confusion. I am sometimes so eager to consider both sides, that I have trouble taking a stand; making a commitment to my beliefs.
My brother, on the other hand, who was on the debate team in high school, chose to argue the opposite view of his own in order to have more fun in the debate. He always liked to play devil’s advocate, even in his discussions with me on current events of the time!
My brother and I spent much of our formative years living in California, Nevada, Arizona, South Dakota, Germany and Brazil. I can honestly say we made our home in somewhere around ten places on three different continents, with three different languages and cultures by the time I was 12 years old and he was 8 years old.
Whew! Not an easy or stable upbringing.
And no, my father was not in the military. He was a geologist doing mining exploration in the western United States during his early years. Later, as a self employed consulting geologist for third world countries, primarily in the Amazon basin in Brazil, he helped struggling nations develop their natural resources. Some of his contracts came at the behest of the United Nations.
Through our decidedly unconventional upbringing, my brother and I learned what it means to live somewhere besides the suburbs of America. We learned to survive the rather authoritarian German boarding school, where we were really pretty miserable in the beginning. And we both enjoyed the tropics with the warm, friendly people of Salvador, Bahia on the northeastern coast of Brazil. What a contrast!
In Brazil, an event occurred a few months after our arrival that had a profound and lifelong impact on my way of thinking.
Three months after we moved there, a coup was staged and yet another military dictatorship took power. Shots were fired and a hotel was stormed and commandeered by soldiers just across the city plaza from where my brother and I were attending school.
Day to day life didn’t change much for us, but seeing armed soldiers in military fatigues stationed all about the city left quite an impression on me.
When we returned to the States and settled in Palo Alto, the scent of wealth was everywhere. The area was poised to become Silicon Valley and was already a bastion of so called open minded liberalism.
In 1966 and 1967 my high school friends and I began to occasionally drive the 30 miles or so up to San Francisco to attend rock concerts. Mostly we went to the Fillmore Auditorium to see bands promoted by Bill Graham and occasionally we also attended concerts at the Avalon Ballroom. Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Country Joe and the Fish, Canned Heat and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band were just a few of the bands making the lively and talented music scene in “The City.”
While spending time in San Francisco, I became entranced with the whole hippie vibe. Part of what appealed to me was the rejection of materialism; the belief that there was more to life than the acquisition of wealth and all the possessions it could buy.
I was also taken in by the pervasive belief among everyone I met that differences in people were to be celebrated. We as a society could evolve and live in peace and harmony. We had such hope for a better world.
When I graduated from high school in 1967 it was an easy decision to flee the superficiality and hypocrisy of the suburbs to attend college in San Francisco. The movement afoot in The City to accept and embrace all people regardless of ethnic, religious or other differences was intoxicating.
And I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I tried smoking pot. I didn’t like it. It made me feel weird and anti-social. Unlike Bill Clinton’s memorable and unbelievable claim of not having inhaled, however, I did inhale. And LSD? No thanks. I believed I was one of those people who might go on a trip and never come back. Plus, it was, and still is, my belief that creative people don’t need any substances to release their creativity.
Back then, if one didn’t want to indulge, the response I got was, “That’s cool…no pressure.”
The Hippie movement was a nano second in time that quickly faded. “Make love not war” became “Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.” To me these seemed to express vastly different sentiments. My hopes and dreams for the possibility of a better world were pretty much dashed. Although I do remember a fair number of people saying “Get high on life, not drugs.”
What transpired at San Francisco State College in 1968 and 1969 exemplifies what I believe to be a lack of open-mindedness at a so-called liberal institution of higher learning.
The Black Student Union (BSU) began to demand culturally relevant college courses. Not an unreasonable demand, really, except they wanted it to happen overnight. The wheels in Academia don’t turn that quickly. A college cannot create an entire new department from one semester to the next.
For myself, I was attending college to get an education. Like me, most of the students, some 20,000 of us, did our best to continue attending classes.
An outdoor platform with a microphone was set up in the center of campus and anyone could spend some time up there talking about the BSU demands or any other topic. The mood on the campus was pretty peaceful.
Then the powers that be in California, decided that a more proactive approach was needed. The intelligent thoughtful president of the College was basically ousted and a new guy was installed. A man who, based on my own observation of his behavior, turned out to be a hothead. His name was S. I. Hiakawa. Years later, as a Senator, he became notorious for routinely sleeping through legislative sessions. At SF State, he liked to throw temper tantrums and jump up and down yelling through a megaphone and wearing his trademark Tam O’ Shanter.
Things escalated. Eventually one of the first SWAT teams created in the United States was called in.
Then many students, myself included, asked, “What happened?” Where was the justification for calling in the cops? What’s wrong with allowing people to express their opinions in a civilized way? Wasn’t it obviously an exercise of the right to peaceably assemble and engage in freedom of speech?
I, and many other students, began to join the marches around the Commons. The issue became a demand that the police presence be removed.
I witnessed two horrific acts of violence. Neither one involved people of color.
In fact, although I am not particularly fond of organized religion, the one incident that really horrified me, was when a priest, in brown robes was being chased by a cop swinging a Billy club. This incident took place across the street from campus at the Ecumenical House. I was waiting for the streetcar at the time, and turned away. I just couldn’t watch.
With talk of fences topped with barbed wire, and gates being set up, I along with thousands of other students dropped out. College careers were derailed.
I went to work full time in the Financial District of downtown San Francisco.
These events, of course, all played a major roll in making me the person I am today.
I have, throughout my adult life, listened to National Public Radio, and also some conservative talk radio. I enjoy hearing other points of view. It stimulates my brain to consider alternatives and other perspectives.
My frustration with closed mindedness persists to this day. And I am equally disturbed by politicians like Nancy Pelosi, who have the gall to tell legislators, most of them lawyers, to, “just sign the bill to see what’s in it.” The vision of her in her trademark big plastic beads just galls me. I remember her as a City Councilwoman from my days in San Francisco. She didn’t impress me back then either.
Dianne Feinstein, on the other hand, was Mayor of San Francisco during a very difficult time for the City by the Bay, and I respect her.
I also don’t care for the rhetoric of some of the Republicans either. I see Chris Christie as a slightly refined “Larry the Cable Guy.” In my opinion, he mouths off too much in a manner unbefitting an elected official.
I have a great deal of respect for Senator Ron Wyden in Oregon. He’s a Democrat and worked for a long time on a budget proposal with Republican Paul Ryan out of Wisconsin. Ron Wyden was a member of my graduating class in Palo Alto, and a few years ago, he was the only incumbent re-elected in Oregon.
I am now, like more registered voters in the United States than both Republican and Democrats combined, an Independent. As a former Democrat, I am registered Unaffiliated because I don’t like enough of what either mainstream political party has to offer. It seems I have a lot of company! Approval ratings for Congress are in the single digits.
As for the TEA Party? I went to the first gathering at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs and many of the people I talked to were middle aged Americans, many of them former Democrats who, like me, were looking for something else.
TEA stands for Taxed Enough Already and was started in Massachusetts in the city of Boston. The movement, in my view, was hijacked by extremists.
A few years ago here in Colorado, while attending a Mountain Jackpot staff meeting at a local watering hole with some civil but lively discussion of the politics of the day, the bartender commented, “You all know better than to argue politics in a bar…” Really?! How did she think this country got started anyway?
Living in Teller County since 1989, it seems to me that the higher up in altitude one goes, the more free thinkers one encounters. People who are fiercely independent often seem to be the type of people drawn to the Pikes Peak region. It is one of the things I love about living up here in the mountains surrounding Pikes Peak.
Over the course of my life I have encountered hypocrisy and a decided lack of open mindedness in the so-called liberal communities in which I have lived. This includes not just Palo Alto, but also San Francisco. There is also rigid thinking among conservatives. But there are also conservatives who have new ideas. Why can’t we all just listen to and consider the merits of opinions that are different than our own? Compromise seems to be a lost art.
Please stay tuned…there are many contemporary issues yet to be explored! Meow…