In My Opinion
by Caroline Porter

What's the difference? Well, let me tell you --

This week I spoke to an agriculture leadership development class in a small school near Galesburg. The teacher suggested I talk about my political experiences, since other speakers hadn't approached leadership from that perspective and high school kids can be pretty apathetic about politics.

After passionate discussion of political leadership issues and talking about citizen responsibility in a representative democracy, the teacher looked me boldly in the eye and suggested, ''Why don't you tell the class why you think the Democratic party is better than the Republican party? What's the difference?''

After a deep breath and listening to my mind crunch around a bit, I began.

The Democrat party trys to represent and be an advocate for working people, people who don't have power or money and need to be protected from those who do and misuse it. It was the Democrats who worked for legislation that enables labor unions to be formed. Too bad some unions don't remember that. The Democrat party fought and still fights bitter battles for minimum wage, safety in the work place, unemployment compensation, workman's compensation and job benefits. The Republican party stance on these issues has been to fight the Democrats every inch of the way.

It was the Democrats who fought for and passed civil rights legislation so minorities can vote - who worked for legislative standards for equal housing and job opportunities and equal rights for women. Students today have no idea how controversial those ideas were and of the sweat and work and courage necessary to pass such laws.

The Republicans are always talking about reducing the influence of the federal government in our lives. Those same Republicans are feasting on a huge Democrat initiative for older Americans, Social Security. Most retirees have received back in two years all they ever contributed to social security. The rest is on the backs of young taxpayers.

Republicans are lapping at the trough of Medicare, another Democrat program to help retirees with medical expenses and a benefit often misused by some wealthy retirees and physicians. Frankly, I told the class, the Federal government steps into our lives when we don't take care of our own neighbors, churches ignore human needs and civil rights and local and state governments are afraid to act.

Federal civil rights legislation was necessary because Southern States were charging poll taxes and giving exams to blacks to prevent them from voting. Federal marshalls had to fend off hysterical bigots and State government officials who fought integration of schools, including state universities. It took 70 years for a Constitutional Amendment to be passed giving women the right to vote. I told the class that if it were up to the Knox County Board, women wouldn't have the right to vote yet.

So, many of us have been forced to appeal to the Federal government for protection against those who would discriminate against us in housing, jobs, voting and education. We know that State legislatures and local government often haven't acted on our behalf and don't do what's right unless they are forced to.

And we wonder why people don't vote. Two hundred years ago only white, male property owners could vote, so three-fourths of us were prohibited from doing so for a long time.

I found it pretty easy to tell why I am a Democrat. My husband's sister-in-law advised him just this spring to look any Republican in the eye and ask, ''Tell me one thing the Republican Party has ever done for you.''

He hasn't gotten an answer yet.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online May 16, 2000

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