I grew up inside a political home and that has taken me on a lifelong political adventure of understanding and involvement.
It was always my mom who was most active in community action and this opened up various opportunities for her to assume entry level leadership positions in local politics of the Republican Party in the city of Long Beach.
My dad read the daily newspaper, although mostly the sports section, and that kept him up with current affairs and on top of national and world affairs. He was simply a voter who knew the issues. However, it was my mom who filled her time outside of domestic responsibilities working towards getting people elected to office.
My earliest recollection of early political events stems from our then State Assemblyman, George Dukemajian (later California governor) attending a “meet and greet” in our large living room as my mom introduced him to her neighbors and friends for the 1962 election.
I was ten years old, paying little attention to political noise and more focused on the tasty appetizers left behind. Being given the task of cleaning up, gathering and bringing the china to the dishwasher was necessary prior to consuming the remainder of the tasty treats of nuts and candies they ignored. That did not require an election.
My mom’s role in the local Republican party was especially noteworthy for her enthusiasm for Barry Goldwater and her dislike for the Kennedy’s. Although college educated and blue collar my mother was not a red neck.
Unconsciously and by a familiar osmosis I tried on the hand me down clothes of conservative political discourse. The argumentative pontification was emanating from the vitriolic Joe Pine radio talk show constantly broadcast in the background of our home. Pine was a kind of Rush Limbaugh of his day.
That “other voice” of media was an indoctrinating presence planting right wing ideas in my young mind, much of which I later would discover as not so right.
Another of my mom’s favorite radio shows was Dr. William McBurney’s Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, broadcast from his headquarters in Glendale. In addition to McBurney’s radio broadcasts he managed a very well-oiled propaganda machine of paper print materials distributed by mail and providing supporting further information while inevitably soliciting donations.
Needless to say my mom was also a big fan of William F. Buckley whose verbose talking head was an occasional visitor in our home thanks to television.
Listening to these folks certainly filled my head with big ideas and shaped an early yet decidedly right bent opinion of the world. When the civil rights movement raised up liberal Dr. King as spokesman and leader, those conservative firebrands of the opposite political spectrum convinced my mom Reverend King was a communist.
It wasn’t a matter of racism since my mom had a few black friends which was a bit unusual in those days. Her mid west values were inclusive as she was generous with everyone of any faith or race. Her prejudice was focused on Communism and for that she was a bigot for red, white and blue.
In a class discussion in the sixth grade of 1964 I shared that wacky information – that Dr. King was a communist – as if it was fact and was shocked to be confronted with an opposing student equally as informed as I was who disputed my intelligence and challenged my source of fact.
My citing of Dr. McBurney as a source of fact held little relevance to justify the charge but the dispute generate a contrasting challenge to my using my mom’s extremist sources as indisputable authorities.
One learns at an early age to question authority. Its natural. Not all are born to follow all the rules. Around the same time we formed a small kid’s gang of friends naming ourselves “Rat Finks” in honor of highly popular custom car designer Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. This exclusive group gathered behind the schoolyard fence concocting new ways to get into trouble.
We had no idea that the Beat Revolution was changing America. While it was several years before I would read Kerouac’s “On the Road” or hear the recordings of Lenny Bruce, Red Fox and Richard Pryor, there was a liberal and liberating army of creative people organically influencing me without my knowing so and doing so even more effectively than the messages of right wing zealots circulating at home.
In a way I was inspired by the aspirations of the beatnik television character of Maynard G Krebbs portrayed by Bob Denver (Gilligan) in the TV show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Somehow I unconsciously latched onto Maynard and Dobie as the twisted example older brothers I never had… showing me “the way” of a more liberal way of thinking.
Although I saw my brother as a sort of Beaver of the Leave it to Beaver kind, I never saw myself as a Wally kind of older brother. Much later I learned that Bob Denver graduated from my high school (David Star Jordan, Long Beach) We could pick and choose our role models from a large cast of characters. Not everyone choose the kids from Ozzy and Harriett or The Donna Reed Show as examples.
Our little gang of elementary school delinquents began adopting slang talk as a means to distinguishing ourselves as unique individuals, independent from our parents. The beatnik jargon of “cool” and “dig it” drove our parents nuts!
To physically embody this beatnik fantasy we cut off the sleeves of our little sweatshirts to show off how cool we were. As gang’s “artist” with the steady hand, I drew on the back of each sweatshirt a carefully designed very large Iron Cross with the indelible ink of a black magic marker. That symbol united us. For what we did not know.
Somehow in an unspoken way I was knighted as ringleader of our little crew, a 1960s version of Our Little Rascals, merging Spanky and Alfalfa updated with bongos beats.
Our juvenile power of rebelliousness lasted just two days. The first day no one in the school really knew what to do about four little kids bearing that awesome and intimidating cross upon their backs. That’s how the revolution began.
Perhaps it was an adult’s fear of the unknown. Those bold iron crosses were a bold sight. Back then there were no illustrations on tee shirts or symbols adorning clothing like there is today. It was a black and white world prior to color television and what we wore was atonally lacking the sparkle and arresting brilliance prevalent now in fashion. Thus the symbol stood out much more then for it being unusual in contrast to how now it would be accepted or ignored.
The second day the leader of the gang – me – was called into the Principal’s Office to cough up an explanation answering questions from the educational interrogator about our use of the Iron Cross, a German symbol honoring war heroes as if somehow our symbols were connected with the socialist party or even Nazis. Probing questions were asked about our intentions for which this kid had no answers.
I was being swept away by forces of politics greater than myself that left me inarticulate in the void of rebellious dissonance. It was a tone set in a cinematic challenge of Rebel Without A Cause when James Dean was asked, “What are you rebelling about?” and he answered, “What have you got?”
By some 1952 birthright the flavor and nature of rebellion had worked its way down into some kind of dumb osmotic neo-natal baptism of riotousness into the brains and spirit of a ten year old kid stuck in a Rocky Horror time warp… again.
Our artsy sweatshirts were confiscated by parents who did not understand. Thus the rebellion identified the source of our rebellion. It was our parents and what they believed in. From that I learned to question authority and to study the truth about Dr. King. From that later I was able to teach my mom to appreciate the correctness of the civil rights movement that changed America for the better.
That the year 1952 marked the birth of rock and roll was not known to us then. We didn’t read the book or see the movie, instead we lived the life.
For over 40 years Dean has been published in a variety of small newspapers and magazines. As publisher he founded an alternative city weekly newspaper in 2008 and published over 200 uninterrupted issues over 4 years to over 20,000 readers via 800 locations (and online) before selling the business.
Dean is a Master Carpenter and the author of the biography of Hilda M Gray, desert homesteader.
In 2014 he was appointed Planning Commissioner for the city of Desert Hot Springs, California.
Dean M Gray is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors and lives in Desert Hot Springs, California.