The Ballot, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Veterans Day
Veterans Day (Armistice), “Chan” Johnson and 11–11–11
“Give us the ballot, and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill…”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It was at the very dawn of the final quarter of the 20th Century. Amongst more then two score others, in the upper chamber of a bicameral legislative body, grandly housed under a mighty, stone-clad, white-domed, state capital; itself topped by an outsized gilt-bronze statue figure representing the independent spirit of one of the original thirteen colonies of a fledgling nation: began the first days of a young legislator’s career.
Though the ornate chamber was new to those newly elected, it had witnessed the presence and participation in political debate of many before. Since the dawn of the most modern of centuries to that time: the 20th, the building had endured.
The chamber had borne witness to many before that day’s inauguration of those who would usher in the last part of the latest century as elected office holders. The chamber had also borne witness to both the father and grandfather of one elected neophyte who took his seat that January day.
Each of his predecessors, father and grandfather having taken the same seat had represented the same district in earlier days. Days: long ago and well before this particular one that sparkled with promise. Sparkled at the very dawn of the final quarter of that great and historical century. The 20th Century.
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new…”
-Alfred Lord Tennyson Morte D’Arthur
During that 20th Century, the grandfather legislator had served as a member of the American Expeditionary Forces that helped win the war in a battle-bedraggled Europe. A Europe that stood witness to the first “modern war”: the “Great War”. In the mid-life of the 20th Century the former soldier was elected to the body that the grandson was now sworn into as member.
After the middle of the century but before its last quarter the father legislator, having been too young for admission into the armed forces for the following war: World War II. Had plied his, own persuasive talents under the same glass-domed chamber. Within the same marble-clad hall he had risen from the same deep-green, leather-bound, chair to declaim on behalf of those who were once his own father’s constituents. As a new legislator himself: back then.
Father legislator would, one later day, take his place among the pantheon of presiding Presidents of that very chamber as a statewide elected, General Officer before the fabled 20th Century finally ran out. In short, the staid chamber had witnessed others before them. On this, day, however, the youngest of the newly elected; the eponymous third generation legislator from a familiar district had his first taste of the hallowed hall himself.
The hall might have sighed the tired sigh of ennui at the sight. Were itself, the insentient structure, of: animated form. The young legislator didn’t so sigh, however. Though the century was growing older and the statehouse too, this scene, to him, was very new indeed and he: was in awe.
So it was that during those early, often confusing but halcyon days of legislative youth the dutiful within the chamber set about their tasks. Representing constituents. Trying their best to be able to think as they wished and, perhaps, even say what they think.
It was on one of those early days. Days fresh with newness to both the young lawmaker and the final quarter of the great, the mighty, the 20th Century that the wisp of an ancient man, gray and bent quietly introduced himself.
With a broad grin and a happy disposition the fellow was pleasantly intense. This introduction was on a day amongst the lighter days when lobbyists were gentle persuaders rather than high-paid, high-powered, hired guns.
An aged man then, likely long gone at this writing, presented himself as nothing more than a very ‘concerned citizen’ whose avocation as an elder-member of society was to attend the daily legislative sessions and absorb. Absorb, but also for those fortunate enough to entertain a moment of his quiet wisdom: to persuasively hold forth.
Chandler “Chan” Johnson was a true believer. Well into his eighties as the 20th Century entered its final quarter, Chan had seen so much.
Seen so much, not just in this cavernous hall brimming with redundant echoes of sonorous opinions but also in the greater world. It was largely from that greater world that Chan drew his not insignificant energy.
Moreover, it was only to those certain few in that great chamber of grand egos and special interests that the slow-shuffling philosopher imparted his wisdom. The rabble, though “duly elected” more often than not paid little attention to the diminutive gent. Patient and never probing, such quiet character was often subsumed in the great tsunamis of self-importance and false pride that rattled about the formidable chamber.
On that day, early on in the session, on the chamber floor Chan introduced himself to the aforementioned young, eponymous elected official. “I knew your father and your grandfather when each sat here as you do today” he said. “My name is Chan. Chandler Johnson. Call me Chan. Your grandfather did. Your father did, too” he finished.
That was the start of a beautiful friendship. The quiet “lobbyist” and the young lawmaker would confer often during that session and some that followed as years rolled on. Chan had nothing but the best interests of his fellow citizens at heart as he quietly explained the greater, and often more absurd impacts of certain arcane efforts to accomplish one or another of some interested party’s “special” interest. A learning curve was set.
“Convenience is to Duty what Dullness is to Edge.”
-Julius D. Thomas
It was a time in the century; a time on the cusp of great advancement for those who theretofore had been satisfied with simple service to constituencies without the need for gross and self-indulgent rewards for ordinariness. Before jobs that defined commitment or bravery existed for generations without being gratuitously termed: “profession”. When the act of learning at the foot of the learned was a sacred composite reserved to those willing to teach and those willing to learn: without the surliness of negotiations for rewards for ordinariness.
Convenience is the prodigal child of indulgence and plenty. The pride of that time: the early moments of the last quarter of the 20th Century, like so many “prides”, would precede a fall. This day, however, was in a moment comfortably set before the decline of the great and indulgent society. Before the tenuous, waning days of the tumultuous 20th Century passed into the troubled 21st Century’s days of budget bedeviled governments.
“I know that it’s popular these days to make holidays convenient.” Said Chan to the youthful legislator. “Legislation can do that” he smiled. “I know that extending the worshipped weekend with a tag-along Monday holiday is in vogue these days.” He commented.
‘Thanksgiving always slides about’, thought the lawmaker, ‘as long as the last Thursday of November is respected’. Chan looked right into the eyes of this third generation member of the chamber and with the most intense, unblinking, blue-eyed stare said: “Veterans Day is different.”
Chan offered his explanation as to why this holiday was not to be relegated to the great dustbin of human convenience. In order to encourage some seeker of advantage or indulgence: an extra day to play without interruption.
“The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is sacred.” Chan offered without removing his gaze: “It was the 11–11–11 Armistice of 1918 at the end of the most harrowing human horror: that stopped the years of bloodshed of the First World War.”
“No other hour. No other day. No other month. Can ever be the Armistice.” Chan intoned. “No convenience is worthy of that.”
“11–11–11 should always be Veterans Day no matter what day of the week it might be. We should never forget and “celebrate” the Armistice on a convenient Monday that happens to be a 12th or a 13th or any other date.”
The legislator dutifully cast his informed vote that day. With that vote: convenience was forever abandoned. To this day and henceforth, the Armistice of 11–11–11 is and will be Veterans Day no matter what day of the week that sacred date happens to occupy.
Chan Johnson had quietly won his battle. The old man had taught the young man a life lesson and a vote was cast…
“There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene.”
-Ernest Hemingway A Farewell To Arms