The Genetics of Politics
Today is normally JT's day to publish, but he has a lot going on. He'll share when he is ready. In the mean time...
Spotify playlist to listen to whilst you read.
People ask me, Mel, why are you so political all of a sudden? These people, clearly, don’t know me. I grew up, as a Catholic, in the time of John-Kennedy-he’s-a-Catholic-he’ll-ruin-our-country, in Massachusetts. People said that, out loud. He couldn’t be president because he was Catholic and he would sell the US out to the Pope (which when it’s all said and done, sounds infinitely better than Putin, just sayin’). I listened to conversations around the dinner table, on the stoop at my uncle’s house, judging people for the way they talk to god is wrong, of course he can run the country, he’s our man. He was a handsome Irishman. Part ladies' man, part party man, well educated, all charm and charisma; like I said, an Irishman, the men on the stoop all saw themselves reflected in him. Imagine a whole community of people with the passion of a Kennedy. That’s where I grew up.
I cut my teeth on politics.
And I’m Irish. Politics is in my blood—and has been since the English first came to Erin’s emerald shores in 1169. One might even say it’s genetic. My grandparents, my dad’s parents, came to the US in 1900 and 1911, before the Easter Rising in 1916, and yet they both listed their country of origin as the Republic of Ireland, not England or Britain. Before a Republic of Ireland officially existed. My grandmother said, “the sacred Republic of Ireland,” she might have had an opinion.
She blessed herself when she heard a siren and lit candles on the full moon. No one was going to tell her how to talk to her god, damn it: sometimes Catholics, sometimes Druid. You’re not the boss of her. My grandfather, her brave (because he lived with her), but often drunk (because he lived with her), husband worked throughout the Great Depression. He sorted wool. Who knew this was a necessary skill? It’s a skill he brought with him from Mooncoin, Kilkenny, a sleepy little village due south of Dublin, Ireland. Nana used his hard-earned pay to feed everyone in her neighborhood in Southie—she remembered being hungry on Ireland’s west coast. You’re not the boss of her; she’d take that money and feed anyone she damn well pleased, thank you very much. Yeah, my grandfather was a brave man.
I grew up singing (mostly off-key, ok always off key) songs of the Irish rebellion and IRA songs. We mourned Bobby Sands, cursed the British, demanded the return of the remaining six counties! We shouted drunkenly and loudly for the return of the six northern counties! My mother’s family was from Derry – not Londonderry – Just Derry, ya bastard! In his declining years, my dad confessed to sending money home for the cause—to a cousin connected to the IRA.
My mother’s mom was a Rosie-the-riveter. Seriously. Then a nurse. She married for the first time in 1920. She divorced her abusive, cheating husband fourteen years later. She divorced him in 1934—because no one was the boss of her! She remarried two more times. Raise eyebrows if you will, she wasn’t afraid of what people said. The only thing she was afraid of was bees. She was a radical feminist in her day.
My mother worked for Kennedy, John and Bobby. She went to demonstrations. Politics were hotly debated over dinner. Not Irish politics, because the Brits were just wrong. Always. They needed to get the hell out of our homeland (even though no one at the table had been there). But American politics. Kennedy/Nixon. Vietnam. Were the lists of the dead soldiers that scrolled across the screen appropriate? Religion was discussed. The role of women in society—and the church. Pro-life, which to my mom didn’t mean anti-abortion but anti-war, anti-death penalty… pro-life. People should live. Who are we to take a life? My parents required that I know what was going on in the world around me—as their parents had demanded of them.
The Monkees sang to me from the TV every week: We're the young generation, And we've got something to say, oh! Oh! John Lennon singing Revolution. Paul Revere singing Indian Reservation.
Gráinne Mhaol agus míle gaiscíoch ag fógairt fáin ar Ghallaibh…
Won’t you please come to Chicago, just to sing…
Their names we would keep where the Fenians sleep
Four dead in Ohio…
But they fought for old Ireland and never feared danger Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men…
How could I not be political? I’ve not missed an election since I turned 18. I’ve always rallied others. I’ve been to protests and I’ve been to memorials. I was taught from an early age what happens in the world to those less fortunate than us matters. It should matter. It must matter if we are to survive as a species.
So, before you decide to take me on with your newly found insular politics remember, my ancestors set aside a revolution to help in a world war. They fought side by side with the hated British for a cause greater than their own. And there are causes greater than my own—and I will gladly do the right thing, the Irish thing; I will learn the reasons, I will fight the good fight for the most good. Being a political being is genetic; ask a Kennedy.
According to both of my grandmothers, in order to be political (which was a requirement), one had to know history and geography. How do these people and nations and people fit together, or not? The not is usually the reason borders change. But without knowing the history of the cultural geography, you can’t pretend to know the story, case in point, Northern and Southern Ireland’s English problem. Or the American landscape, which is culturally five different landscapes.
Sure, sure, ranting on the internet is easy. I’ve seen folks at both ends of the spectrum do so. If you don’t roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty, shut up. People in the trenches, people who go to protests, who write their senators and congressman, who drive people to the polls, vote, carry the torch for those less fortunate, fight their battles in the halls of Congress, and from small restaurants sending postcards speak up! A chorus of armchair politicians are trying to drown us out! Yes, armchair politicians. If you have never been to a protest, worked for a candidate, fed the homeless (veterans and otherwise), driven people to the polls, you haven’t earned a spot at this table. Put up or shut up. As my grandmother would say, no sense in telling folks the water’s great as you sit on the shore. Sadly, I find those are exactly the people who yell the loudest, the ignorant, those who are afraid to test the water, those secure that others will do the hard work and somehow they, in the comfort of their obliviousness, will magically be successful.
There are no others; there is only us. Put up or shut up because there are those of us who are genetically predisposed to fight to make the world a better place.