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Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Class of 1953 and Barack Obama

Talk about de je vu all over again: This weekend I attended the class reunion for the 55th anniversary the Class of 1953 Wichita (Kansas) High School East. Here is a brief report of that experience.

My graduating class was 975, which means there were only about 25 dropouts since we began as sophomores with a class of just over 1000. Understand that where ever these people live now, they/we are all Kansans. Also, understand that even though Kansas has a Democratic governor, Kathleen Sibelius who was on the short list to be Barack’s running mate, Kansas is a Red state.

Kansas was a Red state long before the South made its transition from Southern Democrats to the right wing of the Republican party. Recall, that Thomas Frank, a fellow Kansan, in his best seller “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” raised that critical question in the context of “How conservatives won the heart of America.” Kansas is in the heart of America. Attending this reunion reminds me of the context my roots.

As the only class member of color attending this reunion, this grouping is that demographic that is most resistant to the Obama candidacy, whites over 70. Consequently, of 80 plus attendees, Obama supporters were in a gross minority. I think there were seven to ten of us. Not wanting to offend old friends and acquaintances, this small group was so intimidated by the overwhelmingly Republican presence, most of them would get me to the side and whisper to me that they were supporting Obama. One even wore her Obama-Biden button to the school tour! – a fact of which that she was very proud. Since she lives on Riverside Drive in Manhattan, it is little wonder that she supports Obama. She is just one of the New York liberals.

At the major dinner, I decided to put the whole thing in perspective. In search testimonials and commentary, I was one of about four people to make a comment. I took the microphone. After thanking one of the speakers for having paid a nice tribute to me, I announced that I had talked to Barack earlier in the day and informed him that I was going to deliver the votes of all of these Republicans from the class of 53 for him! Most took it in good spirits and gave out a big hoot. I did get some few (friendly?) hisses and boos. The cry of many conservatives for the debate was to let Sarah be Sarah. Need I say more? I think I have to resign myself that the East High class of ’53 is really the class of ’53, though lovable all, most are stuck in 1953. RGN

Addendum: The dinner was Saturday night. The concluding activity was a Sunday morning brunch. My popularity had not been diminished by declaration of the night before. As it happened, I shared the table with one of my classmates, her husband (class of '50) had been most hostile to my Obama t-shirt at the opening gathering on Friday evening. He had made it clear that he was "far right" and Obama was totally unacceptable. As we were seating ourselves this morning, he stated that he did not want me to not be a "trouble-maker." At that moment I put on my Obama button and quipped that was exactly what I had planned to do. Since his wife and I had always had a cordial relationship, even 55 years ago and through these every five year gatherings, he and I exchanged pleasantries through the brunch, along with others at the table.

Other reactions, however, were very different from the after dinner comments. Several more people approached me to let me know that even though they were Republicans, they were going to vote for Obama. Several let me know that they wished me and Barack well but they were going to "vote for the other guy." Two classmates made it clear that they were voting for Obama because of the mess the Republicans had made Washington. One was outraged about the Congress and the corruption, the other on the disaster of Bush/Cheney.

The Obama supporters were thrilled that I had challenged the class, particularly at the dinner. Win a few lose a few I guess is the case.

The hostile, self identified "right winger" stated he was "leaving the country," if Obama wins. I was not quick enough to say, "I would have been pleased to make a contribution for your re-location fund but being as wealthy as you are I am sure you won't need it." However, I did assure him that he should start packing. RGN

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