Clearly Progress: A Common Kinship

Often, our politics are not so much a choice as a birthright. Although mine were born half a world and half a century away, perhaps there is some kinship with all of us who make progress what it is: the voyage, slow at times, towards equity.

My story started in the first half of the 20th century. My grandfather, a professor, was kidnapped several times during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and then for good by the North Koreans during the Korean War, never to be seen again. With the devastation that all wars bring upon them, my newly alone grandmother huddled her six children, on the brink of survival and in abject poverty, until somehow, they made it to the United States before the war claimed them.

Fast forward almost half a century.

When I was twenty and in college in New York City, I ran across a viewing of the wonderful Civil Rights documentary, Eyes on the Prize, and specifically, the episode on the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and Freedom Summer. Coincidentally, the very next day, The New York Times ran a story on the 25th anniversary of Freedom Summer, which was to be a bus caravan of young people to Mississippi and back. The article stated that Carolyn Goodman, the mother of Andrew Goodman – one of the Civil Rights workers killed that summer – lived in Manhattan. I looked her up in the phone book and told her I wanted to help with the anniversary project. She said, “sure, c’mon over.”

From that point forward, Carolyn became my best friend and mentor until her death at the age of 91 this past summer. In addition to being an innovative psychologist, Carolyn’s life revolved around 8 decades of activism. I remember her telling me stories of organizing supplies as a teenager to the freedom fighters opposing Franco in Spain; holding meetings for colleagues brought forth to testify in front of McCarthy; housing Civil Rights leaders in her Upper West Side apartment; and marching against the Iraq war in her eighties.

As we enter into what promises to be a brutal 2008 election season, let’s ground ourselves in our own roots of progress.

What’s your story?

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