By BARBARA ANDERSON
Local guest columnist
Saturday night was spectacular. I sat enthralled as I listened to former Congressman Lee H. Hamilton discuss the state of affairs in our community, our region and our country.
A room full of people clapped, got on their feet, shouted and generally adored our senior statesman. As the evening came to a close, many were saying: “Run, Lee, run.”
Hamilton made you miss what should be the best in our country. Civility, obedience, service, integrity and love of country. As I listened to him, I thought of other heroes I had — many of whom never reached his status but who certainly had many of the same attributes.
It started a vein of thinking about who my heroes are today. Everyday heroes who largely believe the world is better than most perceive it to be, people who strive to serve every day and think nothing of it. People like Tracy, Bill, Lem and all those folks who come out every Monday to the Williams Emergency Shelter to minister to, to talk to, and to champion.
Or Brian and Little Flock Baptist Church, whose members come to paint and cook and give time. Not because they have too, because they want to — all of them consider working with the poor an honor. So did Hamilton. He reminded us of the War on Poverty and that he as a young congressman was there at its signing.
He reminded us that an entire movement was built around eradicating poverty in this country as we know it, and then he reminded us of our current reality: Gutted programs, people hungry in our state and region, those seeking medical help to find little, not enough funding for the mentally ill and those most in need. He reminded us that is our responsibility to serve those who need us most and there is no shame in that, there is only a requirement that we treat each person we serve with a simple dignity and the truth that as Americans they, too, are entitled to dream.
As Congressman Hamilton spoke he had us in the palm of his hand, wondering how we had traveled so far from this seasoned, professional, statesman to government as we know it now. In his day, people worked together and across the aisle; he reminded us that it wasn’t easy but to paraphrase his words: “At the end of the day, you knew you were there to do a job and not a Republican job or a Democratic job, but the right job.”
Man, to have that kind of leadership again would be such a breath of fresh air.
There were many times I met with the congressman in Washington, and sometimes we didn’t agree and he didn’t always vote the way I wanted, but I always felt like my opinion counted, that he was listening and that I was a respected citizen.
So many Americans are disenfranchised today and with little regard for what being a citizen even means. The voting record for Americans is abysmal compared to that of other countries, our knowledge of our own country is fodder for late night talk show hosts and when we talk of duty to our country, there are those who snort and roll their eyes. I truly believe that is from a lack of heroes — people like Lee Hamilton who stand up when things are tough.
He didn’t walk away after serving 34 years, he developed a government center with Indiana University and is active daily there in teaching and molding young minds. He shares his wisdom and does so generously. That is what heroes do — they give and they keep giving because it is the right thing to do.
In this country, no politician should feel as if they have an election “sewed up” because of the location of their counties — through gerrymandering — whether they are Republican or Democrat they should always have to work to win. They should work for the good of the people, not the few, the many. Sometimes that means not voting the way someone wants or not pandering to groups who represent only a segment of your constituents.
As I listened, I tried to think of other heroes that I truly felt inspired by as I did the congressman, people like Wayne Vance, Michael Stoops, Carolyn King, the Rev. D.L. Motley, Ms. Boogie — all people just like Hamilton. They are people who have worked and served in this community for years and given much of themselves. People like the Rev. Cleave, who could bring a crowd to its feet with a shout and a kick, but who never hesitated to stand up for what he thought was right.
Perhaps that is the best way to think of our heroes — those with conviction, standing up when they know it’s going to be hard and still moving forward. Lee Hamilton did that for 34 years as our congressman and continues today as our statesman, and for all of that I say: “Thank you, sir, it has been an honor to have been served by you.”
— Barbara Anderson, Jeffersonville, is executive director of Haven House Services Inc. Reach her by email at email@example.com