Tuesday, August 30, 2016
42 Years Ago: "Fast Eddie" Recalls His First Days in Senator Kennedy's Office and Georgetown University
It was 42 years ago today (August 30, 1974) that I attended my first class at Georgetown University.
It was 42 years ago yesterday (August 29, 1974) that I went to work for the office of U.S. 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 Senator Kennedy's main office. In fact, it was formerly and formally one of five rooms assigned to Democratic Senator "Fritz" Hollings of S.C., which he had lent (permanently, it turns out) to Senator Kennedy 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 ($53/week for up to 30 hours of work).
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 mafia-sounding 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, you called the mailroom, and you 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 and superlative secretaries, 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), first Jewish director of the Peace Corps (Marc Schneider), and be appointed oN EMK's death 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-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.
It's like Harris Wofford said on January 20, 1961: "You can do anything with these phones!" (After calling to desegregate the Coast Guard, after JFK complained there were no blacks in the Coast Guard contingent at his Inaugural Parade.
In Senator Kennedy's office, 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 -- 2/3 of all the world's whales murdered then, saved by the wonders of the market system and a replacement product that nature created and we promoted. Google® jojoba and see what happened!
I was inspired by hearing Ralph Nader speak in Gaston Hall at Georgetown University the evening of August 28, 1974 (Feast of St. Augustine).
In 2008, Folio Weekly (Anne Schindler, editor, now with First Coast News) would call me an "environmental hero" for detecting and remedying the City of St. Augustine's dumping a landfill in a lake.
Yes, Ralph Nader's speech had consequences.
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 the Government Accountability Project and privately, representing whistleblowers around America.
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 in North Florida on human rights, 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 here).
Most recently, we enjoyed beating four demolition permits before the Historic Architectural Review Board and watching as yet another federal court victory in Bates v. City of St. Augustine (Bates II), by U.S. District Judge Brian J. Davis (fine visual artists harassed by 32 years of Jim Crow law ordinances and oppression by City).
Tonight, votes were counted in four fixed county races, including the fixed Sheriff's election, one of four illegally closed primaries, with two shills (one of them the Sheriff's own massage therapist, a former jailer) claiming "write-in" status, violating the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article VI, Section 5(b) of Florida's Constitution, denying us the universal primary to which we're legally entitled.
I have asked the Justice Department Civil Rights Division to bring a lawsuit.
A resolution is being drafted by the St. Augustine City Commission, calling for an end to such illegally closed primary shenanigans.
Let freedom ring!
True to the standards of my first boss, Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his two murdered brothers, remember EMK's 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.