The announcement of the death of Senator George McGovern brought tears to my eyes and heart. Tears that honor a great man who lived a life of conscience and integrity. I was 16 years old and a junior in high school in Richmond, California when Senator McGovern became the Democratic Nominee for President in 1972. I had the privilege of meeting the Senator on more than one occasion that summer while visiting my family in South Dakota, where like Senator, I too was born on a farm. I was an idealistic teenager who desperately wanted to change the world by ending the war in Viet Nam. Senator McGovern was a WW II hero, bringing credibility to his pleas for peace as he challenged his colleagues from a place of deep conviction--something very few in Congress ever do:
"This chamber reeks of blood. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes." George McGovern
He was an inspiration to me. Too young to vote, I had to find something to do . So I volunteered for his campaign and after school and on weekends, I canvassed door to door in Richmond and El Sobrante, California, passing out bumper stickers and buttons and singing his praises. I wasn’t the only one who was inspired to follow him. Bill and Hillary Clinton both paused their Law School Education at Yale to work on his campaign. There were others, too.
When he lost the election on Nov. 7, 1972, I expressed my disappointment and anger by spending my babysitting money on hundreds of candy suckers that I passed out to students and faculty at school the next day.
I also wrote an Opinion for our school newspaper, The El Vaquero, which was originally rejected for being too ”controversial”. If memory serves me correctly, the student editor, senior Joanne Mirante Hughes and current Lafayette resident, successfully argued for freedom of expression. Seems odd, by today’s standards, that it was too controversial for publication.
"On Tuesday November 7, 1972, something lonely and cold happened to the people of America. You may not see it today or tomorrow or even next week, but you will feel it in these next four years. You will feel it in your heart as more American soldiers and Vietnamese people are killed. You will feel it in your pocketbook when you are a day late for that job and a dollar short for that loaf of bread. You will feel it in your gut, each time you think of how you voted on that day in November of 1972.”
Sharon Muhlenkort, El Vaquero, November, 1972, De Anza Newspaper
Three years ago, I took my two boys, then 8 and 12, to visit the Senator’s Library at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota. My boys learned not only of his work for peace, but also of his good work to feed the hungry children of the world. He was living across the street, just a stone’s throw away from the front door and often stops in to say hello to visitors. We were not that lucky, but waiting for that possibility, I was able to write him a note, thanking him for all he has done for the good of human kind.
On Friday October 26, 2012 in Sioux Falls South Dakota, the Honorable Senator George McGovern will be laid to rest. My family in South Dakota will be in attendance in my absence.
I will say a prayer of thanksgiving for a man who lived a life of conviction.
Perhaps his greatest and most abiding legacy is that he is a man who inspires others to good work in this world.
Thank you, Senator, and farewell.