Saturday, August 29, 2015
"Fast Eddie" 41 Years Later
It was 41 years ago today: I went to work for the office of senator Ted Kennedy, on the morning before my first class at Georgetown University.
Like the hero in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," I started in the mailroom.
It was around the corner from the Senator's main office. In fact, it was formally one of five rooms assigned to Senator "Fritz" Hollings of S.C., which he had donated to Senator Knnedy after RFK was murdered, to handle the overflow of mail, which never abated.
for 2.5 days/week, as a freshman and sophomore (Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoon), I worked as an intern, first free, then paid.
I opened and stapled mail, read mail, assigned mail to other people to read, auto-pennned and stuffed response letters, ran errands, did research, helped with casework, and quickly earned a nickname.
My widely-used nickname in Senator Ted Kennedy's office was "Fast Eddie."
Because if you needed to send something somewhere quickly (this was 1974), there was no Internet, no E-mail and no fax machine.
You put it in an envelope, called the mailroom, and asked for an intern. Any intern.
Or, if it was Tuesday, Thursday or Friday afternoon, you would say, "Is Fast Eddie there/"
Fast Eddie had survived rheumatic fever and arthritis. I was (and still am) a klutz. I did not drive (still don't).
But Fast Eddie moved swiftly, got things done quickly, and did not tarry, unlike your typical undergraduate interns, who moved like molasses going uphill in Vermont in January.
I got to meet and talk with phenomenal staffers, including legislative director Carey W. Parker (a Rhodes scholar, one of several, and his secretary Shannon McDonald), Mary Murtagh and Melody Miller, and people who went on to head the Peace Corps (Marc Schneider), be Ambassador to NATO (Robert Hunter), and be appointed to the U.S. Senate (Paul Kirk). I learned how to answer a telephone, how to solve problems, how to use the telephone, and how to persuade government officials to do their jobs.
I would walk several times a day and take the subway (the Toonerville trolley in Tom Wicker's novel, "Facing the Lions") from the Russell Building to the Capitol, dropping freshly mimeographed speeches and press releases to the three Senate press galleries (newspaper, tv and periodical), sometimes to eye-rolling from journalists who were amazed to see so many EMK press releases.
I read the press releases and speeches, and learned from the scholarly style of Carey Parker, et al.
On November 21, 1974, the Senate overrode President Ford's veto of the Freedom of Information Act -- urged by then-youthful Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Antonin Scalia. After the veto override, I carried the triumphant Ted Kennedy speech and press release to the press galleries. Less than nine years later, I became the "pest who never rests," using FOIA to win declassification of the largest mercury pollution event in Earth history, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on May 17, 1983.
After spending much of eighth, ninth and tenth grades on my back, my health became more robust as I walked several times a day, learning the corridors of power on Capitol Hill, walking by beautiful U.S. Capitol Hill artwork, paintings, sculptures and frescoes, and through secret corridors and hidden basement corridors, to obscure places like the Capitol basement, the Senate Folding and Stapling Room, the Senate Carpentry Shop, and the Russell Building Attic.
I would watch committee hearings and Senate sessions, pre-CSPAN. I would watch the legislative assistants in the Dance of Legislation (as Eric Redman called it), and the warp and woof of constituent correspondence and casework.
I would hang out with the likes of Mary Murtagh, press secretary Dick Drayne and the case workers, and by sophomore year even had a tiny 2x3 table or desk between press and case operations, complete with tiny chair and, of course, a telephone.
I found that saying "This is Ed Slavin in Ted Kennedy's office" got your calls returned, and that we could perform minor miracles.
I learned the power of positive thinking, knowing that with a keyboard, a telephone and a democracy, we could do anything to make the world a better place.
Mary Murtagh and I helped to end sperm whaling with our research on jojoba, an oil seed that is an exact chemical duplicate for the oil of the endangered sperm whale, of which there were 20,000 killed in the world back then.
I was inspired by hearing Ralph Nader speak in Gaston Hall at Georgetown University the evening of August 28, 1974 (Feast of St. Augustine).
It led to life in, around and surrounded by government service and working to improve the lot of others. It led to work in two other Senate offices (Gary Hart and Jim Sasser), investigative reporting, two judicial clerkships at the Department of Labor (Charles P. Rippey and Chief Judge Nahum Litt), work at the AFL-CIO Occupational Safety and Health Legal Rights Foundation and Government Accountability Project and privately, reprinting whistleblowers.
It led me to stand up for equal rights and honest government here, in the City of St. Augustine, where for the last nine years, we band of brothers and sisters have worked to transform our City government, from one of the worst to one of the first, winning Rainbow flags on the Bridge of Lions, respect for GLBT rights, respect for Environmental Justice, and transforming our town (electing the incomparable Nancy Shaver, the first woman Mayor elected by vote of all of the people as such, on November 4, 2014)(see Folio Weekly article below).
Looking forward to federal court victory in Bates v. City of St. Augustine, argued November 21, 2015 before U.S. District Judge Brian J. Davis (fine visual artists harassed by 32 years of Jim Crow law ordinances and oppression by City).
Our latest battle, for the integrity of HP-1 zoning (DOW PUD monstrosity, 4-1 vote Monday, August 24, 2015), is headed to Circuit Court.
Let freedom ring!
True to the standards of my first boss, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, remember his words at the 1980 Democratic National Convention:
may it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved, and that have special meaning for me now:
"I am a part of all that I have met
To [Tho] much is taken, much abides
That which we are, we are --
One equal temper of heroic hearts
Strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
.... For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.