An early brush with greatness: Around the spring of 1971 (we’re guessing), we had a brush with greatness.
As a Baltimore City teacher, we suffered through an all-too-typical day of useless professional workshops. One of the sessions was led by a social worker we’d never heard of, a woman named Barbara Mikulski.
We don’t recall what the session entailed—but we do recall being struck by how odd or unusual Mikulski was. In fairness, it wasn’t her fault that she was being forced to waste everyone’s time in some highly irrelevant way. But she did stand out in our mind, though we can’t recall how or why.
A few years later, we recall being surprised when she was elected to office.
Who the heck was Barbara Mikulski? According to Wikipedia, she got her first national exposure around that time, making a speech at Catholic University about “ethnic Americans.”
We think this excerpt is fascinating for several reasons:
MIKULSKI (1970): America is not a melting pot. It is a sizzling cauldron for the ethnic American who feels that he has been politically courted and legally extorted by both government and private enterprise. The ethnic American is sick of being stereotyped as a racist and dullard by phony white liberals, pseudo black militants and patronizing bureaucrats. He pays the bill for every major government program and gets nothing or little in the way of return. Tricked by the political rhetoric of the illusionary funding for black-oriented social programs, he turns his anger to race—when he himself is the victim of class prejudice.Mikulski is a very low-profile senator—and that sounds like a fiery speech.
He has worked hard all his life to become a “good American;” he and his sons have fought on every battlefield—then he is made fun of because he likes the flag. The ethnic American is overtaxed and underserved at every level of government. He does not have fancy lawyers or expensive lobbyists getting him tax breaks on his income. Being a home owner, he shoulders the rising property taxes—the major revenue source for the municipalities in which he lives. Yet he enjoys very little from these unfair and burdensome levies.
…[T]he ethnic American also feels unappreciated for the contribution he makes to society. He resents the way the working class is looked down upon. In many instances he is treated like the machine he operates or the pencil he pushes. He is tired of being treated like an object of production. The public and private institutions have made him frustrated by their lack of response to his needs. At present he feels powerless in his daily dealings with and efforts to change them. Unfortunately, because of old prejudices and new fears, anger is generated against other minority groups rather than those who have power. What is needed is an alliance of white and black, white collar, blue collar and no collar, based on mutual need, interdependence and respect, an alliance to develop the strategy for new kinds of community organization and political participation.
Yesterday, at WEAA, we heard Theresa El-Amin describe her struggles, down through the years, to get union members to vote their interests as opposed to their race. (She said those efforts were often successful.)
Some of Mikulski’s speech sounds old. Some of it sounds current.
A happy ending: Regarding that Guantanamo thing, we can report a happy ending. Mikulski got re-elected in 2010 with 62 percent of the vote.