As the school board election continues to ramp up to the climax, people are getting very tense. It’s going to be a very close race, with the three top candidates all pulling support from every section of the community. More than a few people have expressed their displeasure (if not actual anger or outright fury) that I am not voting for Nancy Goldberg.
I am, in fact, a fan of Nancy. In a conversation with some friends regarding “which school board candidate would you want to be trapped in an elevator with?’ I said I’d choose Nancy. I’m sure we could discuss the entire canon of Western literature, and probably toss in a good hour of observations on life in Sunkist Park. No slight intended to Scott or Laura, respectively, but I don’t know much about sports, and I suffer from a mild form of beaurocratophobia whereby even the discussion of grant applications or tax forms causes my mind to begin creating haiku about the emptiness of the universe.
Among school board candidates, Nancy and I are far more like-minded. Which is why I fear for her success.
Years ago, when I was a resident of Venice Beach, I was in a similar situation. There was a body known as the Venice Town Council. The function was advisory, but like Culver City, Venice is a place where politics is a full contact sport.
John Haag, the founder of the Peace and Freedom party, dropped by my house one afternoon and asked me to run for the council. John and I had been friends for years, but not close friends; we just happened to hang out with a lot of the same people. This was mostly owing to the fact that I worked on The Free Venice Beachhead, a newspaper John had helped to create in the sixties. I am much too young to be a real hippie, but John Haag was one of the people who defined political hipness. If you are going to write about politics in Venice, hippie is a crucial constituency.
Me ? Run for office ? Really ? Why me ?
“Don’t be so modest, “ he admonished me “ Everyone knows you, you have a good reputation, and you’re smart and articulate.”
“But why,” I asked, “should I run for council ? I’m good at writing. I’m not particularly good at anything else. What does this entail ? What’s the job ? ” John tried to sell the job to me as a few hours a week, show up for the meeting and vote. “You’d be really good at it.” I said I’d think about it.
A few days later, I ran into John again, in the company of a few other friends. They all felt I should run. It would look good on my resume. I should do it. I let myself be persuaded. I could frame the snapshot right there as a mistake, but in my experience, there’s something to be learned in any disaster.
It felt good to win the election, very nice for the ego. But almost as soon as I took office, I realized this was not going to be my cup of tea. I was always being lobbied. People who, up until that point had no interest in me at all, suddenly became very interested. There was one Sunday morning when I was walking up the street to buy the newspaper that I was stopped by four different people all needing to discuss a different issue, and it was lunchtime by the time I got back to my garden gate. The infamous Jerry Rubin (to differentiate from the famous SDS Jerry Rubin) decided to be one of my best friends. Funny, I thought ironically, a few weeks ago he couldn’t be bothered to wave hello from the other side of the street.
The advantage of being a writer for the local paper had been that I could stand next to two people discussing one of my articles, and they would have no clue I was the one listening. I was a voice, but not an image. Now, as an elected official, everyone knew what I looked like. I had blown my cover.
I could have been ok with the post, but lobbying began to feel like harassment. Too many people were telling me what to do, and I was not doing it. The bottom line was that I was not voting the ticket, and that was making my allies angry. John Haag asked me to run so that he would have a majority of Beachhead people on the council. We were all supposed to agree, and vote the slate. I didn’t. I vote the way I think I should vote. (I’ve always been like that- used to make my Mom crazy, not voting the party line.) I can’t say all hell broke loose, but purgatory kept popping up.
So, I resigned. Then everyone was angry with me, except Jerry Rubin, who suddenly forgot I existed. That, at least, was a relief.
I’m an honest woman, and believe me, it’s only a virtue in the abstract. I challenge people, I annoy them, I even hurt their feelings. I say things no one wants to hear, and if you didn’t hear it, I might feel the need to say it again. These are my ethics, and I have to stand on them. Politics is a tough place to be an honest person, and small-town journalism can be even harder.
So, when I heard how and why Nancy is running for the school board, it’s easy to feel that I have walked in those shoes. When I spoke to her after a recent school board meeting about why she was wanted to run for the board, she candidly offered, “I don’t want to do it. It’s just something that has to be done.” I did not know what to say in response.
A few weeks back, after our neighborhood block party on Labor Day, we crossed paths and talked about the gathering. She said that seeing the kids on the waterslide just made her day. I could see the light in her eyes as she spoke about the kids, and I can affirm that is her truth; it’s all about the kids. That is what matters most to her.
People who excel at working with children are heroes. They are to be treasured. I don’t want to see Nancy sitting behind a pile of paperwork, or meeting with engineers, or comparing different types of grass seed or artificial turf for the football field. I don’t know, but it might even cause her to begin formulating haiku about the emptiness of the universe.
I want her working with children, and as I have read in all the testimonial letters from her former students, that is how she changes the world. For the same reasons I want Laura Chardiet writing grants and I want Scott Zeidman coaching his team. Do what you want to do, do what you love, and that is how we will get there.