By Stan Stewart
The midterm elections in the US have had me thinking about my life as a political being.
Stick to Six
My first political act was placing ‘Stick to Six’ leaflets in letter boxes. This was a service project undertaken by our youth group. We were part of a Methodist Church and at that time there was a great debate about the legally permitted drinking hours of hotels. The current law was that the serving of alcoholic drinks had to stop at 6.00pm. Progressive politicians, with much public support in the name of ‘civilized drinking’, wanted the hours extended and many churches, including the Methodists, opposed this move. They forecast that an extension of drinking hours, to say10.00pm, would be a home-wrecking event, and along with my club members, I was a foot soldier in this campaign.
My introduction to communism came through our union shop steward in the electrical workshop where I was employed. He saw me as a possible recruit to his cause. He brought me large books with beautiful, heroic posters showing life in Russia. The posters depicted young people joyfully working in agriculture and industry. I agreed to read a book about communism if he read a book about Christianity. He agreed. The book he brought me was titled something like, ‘The Rise of the Proletariat.’ I tried to read it, but it was too dense for me. He didn’t read my book either. In the end, we gave up on trying to influence each other. I learnt he was stealing equipment from our workshop and I was not impressed. He said, “Everything in this workshop belongs to us - the people - so why not take it home?” I lost interest in Communism.
The Vietnam war barely impacted us teens in our electrical workshop. I missed the draft as the examining doctor said my feet were too wide and would never fit into army boots. We apprentices occasionally talked about the war but that was it. The young people who got stirred up about it were on university campuses, far away. They lived in a different world to us and they were involved in protests and riots. In the coal town where we lived, it seemed like they were on another planet. Besides, I liked the look of President Kennedy. Our liberal political leaders talked of the ‘domino effect’, nations falling to communism, one after the other. It convinced me.
Labour and Liberals
As I approached voting age, with an election coming up, my Dad asked me who I would vote for. ‘Liberals’ I said. My Dad exploded. “We are working class. We have always voted Labour and you will vote Labour”. “No, I won’t” I said. Incensed, he took a swipe at me although he was driving at the time. As he attempted to land a punch on me, he swerved and almost had an accident. My Dad had been a battler all his life and for twenty years he drove trucks between Melbourne city and the wharves. He was honest, reliable, and set in his ways, and he saw my voting for the free enterprise party as betrayal. We never discussed politics again.
When I worked for the Australian Council of Churches, my liberal, free enterprise views really put me out on a limb. Early on in this assignment, I had to fly from Melbourne to Sydney. I made these trips on Ansett Airlines. On my first trip, the collogue who picked me up expressed surprise that I flew on Ansett Airlines. “I suppose the government airline was booked out” he said. “No, that’s not it” I replied, “I believe in competition, and I support free enterprise.” From then on, my reception in the Sydney office was always chilly. Once I defended my choice based on an article in the ‘Readers’ Digest’. Well, that was it! They told me that anything printed in that rag about life under communism in Russia was an absolute fabrication. ‘American propaganda’ they called it. Years later, when Solzhenitsyn lifted the lid on the gulags, we realized that some things in Russia were worse than the stories carried in the Readers’ Digest.
These days I know more about politics but, truthfully, I have become apolitical. Skepticism comes easily, and I find that I can’t be dogmatic as once I could.
But now, out of left field, I have another political force in my life. My adopted daughter is a vegan and meat pies have become a threat to the future, and cow’s milk is speeding the destruction of the planet. As far as she is concerned every political initiative is to be seen through this lens. She doesn’t letter-box people with these views; she uses the internet. As for me? Well, here’s a new political dimension I must come to terms with!