Why I Am Marching For The First Time In 50 Years

I will march again, and again, until Democracy is safe for all Americans.
02/15/2017 04:54 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2017

David Kleinberg at the women’s march in San Francisco in January

In 1968, I marched with Veterans for Peace from Golden Gate Park to San Francisco City Hall to protest the Vietnam War. I had firsthand experience. I spent one year in Vietnam as an army combat correspondent, and while in Bangkok on R&R, just before leaving for home, all my buddies were killed or wounded when a rocket hit the bunker I should have been in.

Over the last half century, I have not marched since. I have supported progressive and human rights causes with my vote, but I have not put my shoes on the ground for my black, brown, gay, union and environmental brothers and sisters. I had a career, I had divorce, I had a new family. I had my friends, my monthly poker game, my hobbies, my hikes in the Himalayas. I had my Willie Mays, my Joe Montana and now my beloved Stephen Curry. But through all this time, until recently, I saw Democrats and Republicans herky-jerky work together for the better of the nation. And in the end, I saw – never fast enough, of course ― long, steady social progress from sea to shining sea.

Yet at the same time, living in my liberal San Francisco bastion, I have to confess that my eyes went blind to the recent legitimate anger and grievances of a large sector of our nation that voted in the new president.

When I heard Hillary Clinton call the Republican nominee voters “deplorables,” I was outraged. I thought, “Why would you dare say that about the people you will be leading if you are elected?” But wasn’t there an aloof part within me that felt some of the same things – “white trash... bigots...”

Sitting here now in a prosperous, boom tech city, with multiplying cranes and torpedoing skyscrapers, I failed to hear the legitimate, desperate voices of people across the country who had lost their jobs to workers overseas working for percentages on the dollar that an American could not afford to live on.

And I failed to recognize how American corporations almost inhumanly – despite their enormous profits – deny workers a livable wage. I am shocked when my sister tells me that my niece Alice, who is employed by Denny’s in Omaha, Nebraska, makes $2.47 per hour salary after being employed by this company for 10 years ― justified by the fact that her tips raise her wage to the state minimum of $9 per hour. 

And I have failed to recognize there are vast communities across the nation that have not been part of the recovery from the 2008 recession, where homes have been repossessed and businesses boarded up.

Sadly, however, the people who voted for Donald J. Trump have not yet recognized that this president does not truly represent them, that the contract is indeed a deal with the devil. The stock market might have shot up almost 2,000 points since his election, but none of those gains will be seen by his voters. 

The sad truth is that a minority of Americans have put into the most powerful position on earth a dangerous child – a thin-skinned man, lacking in compassion, routinely willing to call “black,” “white” as part of “alternative facts.”

Forget that he calls an American hero a loser (a member of his own party, no less) who gets captured in war; forget that he thinks it is great fun to mock a disabled man; forget that he loves now and then to grab some “p―-y.”

All you need to know about this man – really glossed over by the media in the ocean of words trying to define all the man’s boatload defects of character – was what he told Howard Stern on national radio. Yes, he agreed, his daughter is probably a “great piece of ass.” How many fathers would ponder such a sick thought, much less boast about it to a national audience?

But here is the bottom line question about the man, a question that should shake you to the core:

Do you think ever in his adult life Donald J. Trump has ever cried? Think about the implications of what that question says about being human. For the man who wants to star in the sequel to “The Man Who Would be King” (“I alone can fix it!”) is more suited to tragedy, and pain he will bring to others.

And I need to ask my Christian friends to explain what you saw in this man’s character that made you vote for him. What elements of what Jesus preached – love, compassion, charity, all the elements of our basic democratic ideals and at the core of all religions – did you see? 

America has never needed to be great again. Even when I protested the war in Vietnam, I worshiped America for allowing me to do so, for allowing my ancestors a home away from religious persecution on the other side of the globe.

America has always been the greatest nation in the history of civilization. Except for the Native American Indians, we are all immigrants or come from immigrant roots, including the president.

In 1984, I coached my daughter Leah and her 10-years-and-under soccer team. It was the first time girls played soccer in San Francisco. I was stunned by the diversity of my team: a Jew, an Arab, an Irish girl, a black girl, a Japanese girl, a Latina, the daughter of a lesbian couple.

And, in amazement, I pointed this out to Leah. My daughter looked at me blankly, and said, “So what?”

Today Leah lives in the suburbs of the Bay Area in just as diverse a community as she saw on the soccer field. And many of the people in her community are starting to now live in fear, even though, regardless of their nationalities or faiths, they see themselves as Americans first. Or as Gina, a young Chinese woman who once worked in our office aptly put it, “I’m American. I just look Chinese.”

At some point, whether sooner or later, this nation will face a constitutional crisis of the first magnitude. Will it be when we find out what Trump has been promising the Russians, the day the president orders the doors closed on CNN, or when the stock market crashes? Or when we see ISIS recruits multiply 20 fold with Muslims now convinced that America’s promise of democracy is a lie.

Whatever the event, whenever the time, it is then that our one-time good friends across the aisle, the good Republicans, will have to be content to push their agendas temporarily to the side to help save the republic – or how else years down the road could they face their children and grandchildren and explain how they permitted America to become a dictatorship.

Even as I write this, I think the unthinkable thought that I could have never previously conceived of in my 73 years of life in America: That by writing this opinion, my name may one day may end up on a government list: JEW, ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE#2943494, and the fear that a train could chug slowly by my home some time deep in the night.

So knowing evil is on the horizon – a “Bad Moon Rising” we used to call it during the Vietnam era – it is my duty to join others of good will in the human tradition of trying to stich good from bad. 

Conservatives have always proclaimed that “freedom isn’t free.” And that moto served well at least in World War II when the nation was forced to shed enormous blood to rid the Nazis from the earth.

But who would have ever considered the notion that someday we Americans would have to rise up in our own nation to keep freedom free, the freedom we seemed to have taken for granted?

So I will march again, and again, until Democracy is safe for all Americans, and so Americans can speak to each other again. 

And as I march, I will also try to spend some of that time learning how to walk better in someone else’s shoes.

David Kleinberg protests the Vietnam war on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, Ocotober 12, 1968
David Kleinberg protests the Vietnam war on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, Ocotober 12, 1968
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