Some of my younger friends are freaking out about Trump, wondering how we’ll get through his presidency. For those of us of a certain age though this is déjà vu, a return to the days of Ronald Reagan. Though many people lionize him in retrospect, he was a train wreck through and through.
I was young when he came into office and my only memory of his first term is being interrupted in gym class to an announcement he had been shot in an assassination attempt. My first inkling of him as a politician came from a high school social studies teacher Roy Buri who constantly made fun of Reagan’s statements and policies. I laughed at Buri’s characterizations but I also began to internalized them. He was a legend at the school and had reportedly provided a safe haven in the 1970s for students organizing against the Vietnam War. Retro bonus: he even looked a bit like Bernie Sanders!
When I graduated and moved onto a mostly conservative college, I would stay late at nights in a basement lounge talking with friends in about how we could deal with the era we were living. I remember an epiphany that even though the media were telling us to believe certain things because that was the mainstream national discourse, we didn’t have to. We could be independent in our actions and convictions. Yes, that seems obvious now but it was a major realization then.
So what did we do? We protested. We spoke out. We knew government wasn’t on our side. For those losing friends to AIDS, there was deep mourning and righteous anger. There was a melancholy. A lot of my world felt underground and gritty. I started writing, editing a underground weekly paper on campus (really the start of my career). I figured out that the geography department was full of lefties and spent enough time there to earn a minor. Most of all, I worked to de-normalize the Reagan and Bush St Administrations – the deep corruption of many of its officials and the heartlessness of its policies.
My wife Julie heard that the Rowan University geography club was having an open hike at one of our favorite local spots, historic Batsto Village. Our kids are all geography nerds and we’ve been wondering if our 12yo Theo in particular might be interested in a geography degree come college so we came along. It was a grey, bleak, late winter day largely void of color so I leeched what tiny bits of green and red that remained to take black and white shots.
Timeline Photos | Facebook
An Indian woman, a Japanese woman, and a Syrian woman, all training to be doctors at Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia, 1880s.
Cool vintage picture of doctors in train from Philadelphia’s woman’s medical college.
Even I’m a bit shocked by the title of this post. Have I really been blogging for fifteen years? I keep double-checking the math but it keeps adding up. In November 1997 I added a feature to my two-year-old peace website. I called this new entity Nonviolence Web Upfront and updated it weekly with original features and curated links to the best online pacifist writing. I wrote a retrospective of the “early blogging days” in 2005 that talks about how it came about and gives some context about the proto-blogs happening back in 1997.
But I could arguably go back further than 15 years. In college, my friend Brni and I started an alternative print magazine called VACUUM. It came out weekly. It had a mix of opinion pieces and news from all over. Familiar, huh? Columns were made up from a dot matrix printer and pasted down with scotch tape, with headlines scrawled out with a sharpie. The ethos was there. Next April will mark its Silver Jubilee.
What’s most striking is not the huge leaps of technologies, but the single-mindedness of my pursuits all these years. There are cross-decade echos of themes and ways of packaging publications that continue in my work as editor of Friends Journal.
I usually skip out on meme games but I thought I’d try out Jeanne’s class one. Bold are the privileges I can claim from my youth, italics are ones that I’m unsure of or that are more “yes but” kind of privileges. My mom’s Lutheran pride kept her from wanting us to look or feel poor. Yes, I didn’t have second-hand clothes but the rich kids often did. While they might wear scrubs from their parent’s doctor practice or vintage clothes scored from a thrift-store outing, I was in striped button-down shirts from the respectable department store whose teen department was always empty of teen customers. Yes, respectable people on TV sound like me but that’s because my mom dropped her childhood Pennsylvania Dutch accent and was hyper-aware of non-standard accents (a trait I’ve unfortunately picked up, I correct/mock Julie’s “wooder” pronunciation for water before I can even think about it, it’s like I have a very specificTourettes Syndrome that only applies to non-standard accents). Julie tallied up and commented on the quiz here in Jeanne’s comments. It’s fascinating to realize that although I grew up significantly poorer and have less than half Julie’s “steps” she’s much more culturally working class than I’ll ever be.
Father went to college (he was secretive about past, he might have done a semester at St Joe’s)
Father finished college
Mother went to college (two year secretarial program)
Mother finished college
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children’s books by a parent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively (because we’re good assimilationists)
Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Had to take out less than $5000 in student loans in order to go to college
Didn’t need student loans to go to college out of high school
Went to a private high school
Went to summer camp (day camp at the Y for a few summers)
Had a private tutor before you turned 18
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18 (pride kept us out of second-hand stores until we later crossed that class boundary where thrifting is cool precisely because its not a necessity)
Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
There was original art in your house when you were a child
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your family lived in a single family house
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
You had your own room as a child (I was the only child at home after age 7)
Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course (my mom thought they were cheating)
Had your own TV in your room in High School (mostly as monitor for Radio Shack Color Computer she bought me junior year of high school)
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up (we were more zoo/county fair/Independence Hall tour types (hey, they’re all free/low-cost!))
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family (n/a: included in apt rent, besides my mom would never let on that things were tight)
A list like this can never be all inclusive but it seems there are some big omissions. Where’s anything about family structure and finances, like “You had two parental figures living in your house” and “Both parents contributed to family income” or “One parent stayed home or worked part-time”? In my own instance, my father had a secret other family and never paid for anything other than the occasional trip to Roy Rogers (secret family to “Little Marty” at least, the women and older children presumably noitced he was only around half the time and constructed some mental run-around to explain it away).
The other omission is social networks. I have no memory of family friends. I cannot name one friend of my father and my mother’s friends were limited to a handful of “girls” at the office. By the time I got to high school I started to see how certain classmates were able to work the system to get the best teachers and classes and this was mostly accomplished by parents swapping notes after Hewbrew class or at church or at hockey practice. Friends are rightly noted for the strength of their social networks and I suspect these provide a social privilege that is far more valuable than parental salary.
Jeanne promises to write a part two to her post explaining what this all means to Friends. I’m looking forward to it though I’m unsure just what easy generalization can be made if we’re looking at origins. One of the few surveys trying to be comprehensive found Philadelphia-area Friends don’t reflect American averages yet for many convinced Friends our participation has mirrored (and perhaps been unconsciously motivated by) an upward class mobility. Keep an eye on Social Class & Quakers for more!