Once upon a time America dreamed…
Americans believed in the melting pot it truly was, the greatest experiment in Democracy on the planet; the hope of millions, a beacon of light and liberty. A place where even Blacks, Jews and women could rise.
Last night that America disappeared to be replaced by an America yet unknown. An America come undone. The decline of America had already begun, long before Barack Obama took office. In the muddle of Global Colonialism, the takeover of the West by Corporate Interests was long in the works. Beginning in the 19th Century with the Great Game, from China to Iran, the Halls of Power have been papered with blood money. Money is God and God help us if we disagree!
Once upon a time, America was a different place, a place of Hope, where immigrants could achieve anything they set their hearts to, a place truly about and for the people. This was the country my father grew up in, the place he brought us to when South Africa spiraled downward into the Darkness of Apartheid. Oh the irony.
During the 1900’s my paternal grandmother Victoria and her older sister, Anna were actively involved with the Suffrage Movement that had exploded as the Industrial Age drew women out of their homes into the workplace.
I’m here today, a part of a sisterhood of women of every race and creed, that rose with one voice to say enough is enough, it’s our turn to create a new future for our sons and daughters under the leadership of this remarkable and extremely qualified woman, Hillary Clinton.
We didn’t have a chance. Not in this America.
The following excerpt is from a book I’m currently writing about my father’s (Immigrant) family. My father Norman and his two older cousins Howard and Ben spent their childhood summers in Dutchess County on the Hudson, on property acquired due to their mothers’ friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt.
Vicky was immediately included in Anna’s Suffrage activities. It was an exciting time to be a woman. The Fin De Siecle energy picked up steam as Vaudeville began bringing Black Music to Middle Class America and women everywhere felt the empowerment of Emancipation and began demanding the right to vote.
Anna began taking Vicky to meetings and soon the two young women were active on several fronts. The beginnings of The Democratic Women’s League and the Garment Industry Labour Unions were all born from these early meetings of women from all walks of life, gathering in storefronts, churches, synagogues and apartments all over New York City in those years prior to 1920.
By the time the Twenties arrived, Anna and Vicky had made the acquaintance of Eleanor Roosevelt. Vicky had married my grandfather, Barney, who was suddenly very successful, having opened a combo gas station and car dealership (selling Pierce Arrows and Stutz- Bearcats) on the corner of Prince and Lafayette Streets in Little Italy, with franchises throughout Long Island.
Barney had grown up in Long Branch, New Jersey after coming to the States as a small boy. Born in Kiev, to a religious family – his father was (a Kohen) a scribe and a ritual butcher – he was good-looking, athletic and popular. He was a strong swimmer and a weekend lifeguard when my grandmother met him and they fell in love. They married in 1920 and moved to New York City where he opened his gas station.
The money for the gas station came from an Italian mobster who hired my grandfather as his chauffeur when he was eighteen. Barney drove the guy around, worked on his cars and proved trustworthy and loyal, so when the mobster decided to move back to Chicago (he was part of Capone’s gang) he offered to put Barney in business.
My father was born in 1923 and by then, the two families were quite well-to-do. Through Eleanor, they learned of a piece of property for sale in New Hamburg, on the Hudson, bordering Wappingers Falls, in Dutchess County.
Sixty-five acres were promptly purchased; a house and gardener’s cabin were built to accommodate them during the summers and on weekends, so that the boys could ride horses, have boats, learn to shoot and hunt and generally reap the health benefits of an outdoorsy life that was in sharp contrast to their urban existence.
They were the first Jews permitted to buy property in the area and as my father’s younger cousin Alice (the daughter of another sister, Lauren) reminded me, “the only Jews.”
“There were no Jews, they were the only Jews there.” Alice told me, “even after I started visiting when the boys were already grown up.”
The communities along the Hudson were long a WASP enclave; the River families as they were known, included the Vanderbilts and further up the Hudson, about a thirty minute drive, was the Roosevelt pile at Hyde Park, where Eleanor eventually built her cottage, Val-kill.
My grandmother and her sister are turning in their graves today – the picture of them above was taken in Nice on the French Riviera after the War. They often traveled together, leaving their husbands at home. My grandmother (on the right) was a fiercely independent woman.
They might have been on their way to South Africa where my grandparents spent half the year, stopping in Paris to shop and in Nice, perhaps on their way to Genoa (where my grandfather had an office – by this time he owned a shipping company) to take an Ocean Liner to Cape Town. I’m speculating here but these comings and goings were part of my childhood.
A couple of weeks ago I was having dinner with another pair of sisters and one of their daughters here in Taos, and I voiced my fears to them about Trump winning this Election.
One of the sisters, a former American Ambassador’s wife, who was our hostess, exclaimed with a smile, “oh no, it doesn’t work that way.”
“I have something for you,” she said as she disappeared into another room.
She returned with a large button which reads “A Woman’s Place Is In The White House.”
I placed it on the dashboard of my car which once belonged to another member of the sisterhood, Molly Bruce who came from England to work for the U.N. after the War. Molly’s daughter Anne is Billy Sarokin’s wife and they are partners with Andy Lynch at Common Fire.
Apparently she was wrong, optimistic but wrong. A Woman’s Place was clearly NOT in the White House. Yet.
Today we mourn the death of that America. We grieve in shock. But life goes on and we must rally. I’m leaving that button in my car. I’m holding that thought, telling my grand daughters they can reach for the moon and stars. I know after more than half a century here on this planet, things change and people who dream big and keep love in their hearts through the darkest times, are often the ones who initiate those changes.
In my play, The Land, which is about two women on either side of the Israeli/Palestinian Divide, the Israeli mother ponders the ongoing violence and observes, ” if these are the kind of men our sons have become, what kind of mothers are we?”
We mothers of American sons must ask ourselves that same question now.
When Vicky died, I saw my father cry for the first time.”My mother was a remarkable woman,” he said, “I am the man I am because of her.”
Tonight I’m opening a bottle of champagne nonetheless, and toasting all of these women along with my Grandmother, my Great-Aunt Anna and the others who have participated in this long march to Freedom. We will get there yet.
Hillary Clinton is part of this sisterhood and I’m raising my glass to her.
Here’s to you Hillary, you gave it all you’ve got – but the system is rigged, your President told you so – you never had a chance.
And for all who are now screaming, “We told you, it shoulda been Bernie!” I have news for them too, no Jews are allowed either! Yet.
I’ve lived to see miracles happen in South Africa. They can happen here too.
We gotta fight harder and smarter, but together we will rise!
Portrait of Hillary Clinton by Kimberly Webber
Other images from my files for So Somebody Do Pls Tell Dick (the working title of my book)
© Lynne Robinson 2016
Some names have been changed to protect the living.