The practice of politics is something that I was born into.
My grandmother, Dorothy Marie Boone-Anderson, was a community organizer during the Civil Rights Movement. Being someone who left school in the eighth grade to work in the fields and help support her family, she understood that the only way oppression could stand was in the face of a hopelessly divided working class. She was someone who understood that building coalitions and activating the common spirit were indispensable qualities for a successful movement.
When my father first arrived on the job at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 1982, he came home and told Grandma that someone had talked to him about joining the union. When she asked him if he had signed up for the union that first day, he said that he had not.
My grandmother was a woman of many qualities; introversion was not one of them. After getting a talking to about the importance of collective bargaining and working-class political power, he quickly joined the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. When he was moved to a different shop, he became a member of the Machinists. It is through that union that he continues his service to America’s working class.
Given this, it seems obvious that the discussion of current events around the dining room table were as much a part of my childhood as my grandmother’s delicious cornbread or the smell of roasted peanuts. The topics ranged from the local (usually around Suffolk politics or the Civic League that she belonged to) to the national (my father’s discussions about fighting the North American Free Trade Agreement’s passage in 1993). Even after my father moved away to pursue new job opportunities (he had been laid off from the shipyard in 1993; thanks a lot, President Clinton), the routine remained the same: Grandma would ask me what I wanted for breakfast; I would reply that I wanted the usual; and about twenty minutes later, I would come out to pancakes, bacon, black coffee with sugar, and the day’s Virginian-Pilot.
Through these conversations and my experience in American politics, I have learned one important lesson.