Unitarian Universalist Society, October 2, 2005
Not a Unitarian Universalist, But...
by Mary Mullen
in blue were read by members of the congregation.)
Rev. Dr. Rebecca Ann Parker’s sermon “Love First” which she gave Sept. 6, 2005, at the Starr King School for the
Ministry where Rev. Parker is the President and Professor of Theology.
We must learn again to
live with reverence. Reverence
is a form of love. It is response to
life that falls on its knees before the rising sun and bows down before the
mountains. It puts its palms together
in the presence of the night sky and the myriad galaxies and recognizes as
Langston Hughes told us, “beautiful are the stars, beautiful too are the faces
of my people.” Reverence greets all
humanity as sacred. It genuflects
before the splendor of the grass and the magnificence of the trees. It respects the complexity, the beauty and
the magnitude of creation and does not presume to undo its intricate
miracles. Instead, it gives life
reverent attention – seeking to know, understand and cooperate with life’s ways.
upstairs we are going to be learning some things about a man from Wisconsin
called Gaylord Nelson. This is what he
looked like. (Show books.) He was born way up in northern Wisconsin in
a little town called Clear Lake. It’s
about 200 miles away from here. It
would take about 4 hours to drive there.
talking about him today because he would make a good Unitarian
Universalist. He very much loved the
beautiful land, and the pure water and air in Wisconsin, and because of his
love of nature when he was Governor of Wis he got our state to buy a lot of
land for public parks and forests so that people would have a chance to enjoy
nature. How many of you have been to a
state park this summer? Have any of you
gone to Blue Mounds State Park? That
was one of the first ones he got for us.
believed that everyone should be treated fairly no matter what the color of
their skin was. Today no one would
think that black soldiers and white soldiers shouldn’t serve together in the
National Guard. Well, it was Gaylord
Nelson who sponsored the law in Wisconsin that integrated the Wisconsin National
Guard so that black and white soldiers would be in the same units. It was one of the first bills he introduced
when he was elected to the Wisconsin Senate.This was back when I was 8 years
thing everyone knows him for was for starting the first Earth Day
celebration. That was back in 1970,
about the time some of your parents may have been born. It’s been celebrated ever since and now
Earth Day is celebrated all around the world on April 22.
you might like to know a little bit about Gaylord Nelson’s childhood. Like your parents, his parents wanted him to
be a good boy, but sometimes he wasn’t.
Now when I was a kid, sometimes my mother would spank me when I did
something mean or wrong. Why don’t you
turn to your neighbor and tell your neighbor what happens to you when you do
something mean. Anyone want to guess what happened to
Gaylord? If his mother caught him doing
something mean, she might just give him a couple of licks with a switch! She would do this especially if he would
make fun of someone about their religion or if they were poor. Another thing she didn’t like was
lying. But his father would do
something different. What to you think
his father would do when one of his kids did something wrong? Actually his father would lecture him for
about an hour - like just about the whole amount of time you spend downstairs
on a Sunday. Which punishment do you
think the Nelson kids preferred?
exactly an angel back then. Every year
the turtles in his town would
migrate from the main lakes to another lake to hibernate, and they’d go through
the back yards of town. Guess what he
and his friends would do? They would
try to confuse those turtles. They
would turn them around or put them behind obstacles like trees or long
grass. But they learned that those
turtles didn’t get confused at all. I
don’t know if he got punished for that.
But Gaylord said that in his little town of Clear Lake, it wasn’t only
your parents who were checking whether you were doing the right thing. He said, “If you did something wrong, some
neighbor would paddle your butt or correct you or call your parents.” You just couldn’t get away with doing
something wrong. He said living in a
small town was good because it encourages and allows you to be an individual,
but it demands civility. By that he
meant that in a small town you had to be polite because everyone knew you and
if you weren’t you might not have friends after awhile. When he got to be an adult, he was such a
nice guy that he was voted the most liked Senator in the United States Senate.
way Gaylord really loved animals. He
always had pets -a dog, pigeons, a skunk, even a great horned owl. He raised chickens too.
I want to
tell you one more story about Gaylord Nelson.
It’s about a nickel and a dime and how he fooled his younger brother and
how he felt about it later. (Show
nickel and dime.) Which one will buy
more, this big nickel or this little dime?)
OK, here’s the story. One day
Gaylord’s little brother Stannard had a dime and Gaylord had a nickel. He convinced his little brother to trade
with him so that Stannard had the big nickel and he, Gaylord, got the smaller
dime. Then they went down to the store
and bought ice cream cones. Of course
Gaylord got the bigger ice cream cone because a dime is worth twice as much as
a nickel. When his little brother
Stannard saw that Gaylord had a much bigger ice cream cone, he didn’t say a
word, but 2 huge tears rolled down his face.
What do you think Gaylord did?
(Nothing!!!!) But he really felt
bad even long after he grew up. He felt
so bad that 70 years later he sent his brother Stannard a check for $500 along
with a note. The note said, “I have computed the compound interest of
that nickel I cheated you out of 70 years ago, plus criminal penalties,
embarrassment, etc. This may get me an
interview with a friend of St. Peter, which is as close as I’m likely to
get.” In other words, he still felt
guilty after all those years and he wanted to make up for it.
hope you learned that Gaylord Nelson was a kind of ordinary boy who would get
in trouble sometimes, but he felt bad when he did mean things even as a child,
and when he grew up, he was a great champion of equal rights and for the
environment. And I hope you also
learned that it’s never too late to make up for something that you did that
Presentation "Gaylord Nelson, Not
a Unitarian, But..."
agreed to lead a service on Gaylord Nelson, it was because I knew Gaylord was a
man many of us admired for his work for the environment and that he also had
supported other initiatives that are embodied in our UU principles. Like probably most of you, I knew he was the
founder of Earth Day in 1970, which has now become a world-wide event. But even though I am a native Wisconsinite
and lived through his tenure as a state senator, Wisconsin Governor, and a U.S.
Senator, I didn’t know until I attended his memorial service this summer that he
was a key figure in civil rights legislation and opportunities for the poor and
that he opposed the Vietnam War almost from the start. How a regular guy from a little town in
northern Wisconsin could be such a leader was also a mystery to me.
So when I
set out to do my research, I had several questions in mind. One was, “What was there about his
upbringing that made him into the liberal leader that he was?” I thought that would be useful information to
us because we are a “village” trying to raise kids whom we’d like to see go in that direction. A second question was, “What
was there about him or his techniques that made him so able to draw support
from both Republicans and Democrats?” Again,
I wondered what lessons we could draw to make us successful in carrying out our
principles as UU’s - principles that are very similar to his although he was
brought up Methodist and as an adult never attended church. Another question was, “What did he support
and accomplish besides the short list I knew?”
suppose you might be wondering why you each got a few dictionary pages as you
came in. It’s because when Gaylord
Nelson was going off to a dinner that he suspected might be boring, he often
tore a few pages out of the dictionary and then studied them when he got tired
of listening to what was going on. It
was part of his life-long fascination with words, inherited and nurtured in his
family. So - if you find yourself in
that condition today - don’t hesitate to do what Gaylord would. You might get a chance to share a word or
two before the morning is over.
So - my
first topic is the question about what kind of an up-bringing did Gaylord
Nelson have that contributed to his becoming a champion of many of the values
that we have as UU’s. He was born in northern Wisconsin to a
father who was a country doctor and a mother who had been a nurse (June 16,
1916), 3rd living child. Clearly, their
position in the community was high, but I think it’s important to note that
both of these are helping professions.
His father would often do gratis work for poor people which was about
half of his patients. Others offered
in-kind payment such as a hind-quarter of beef, a chicken, or a load of
wood. The family often had an extra
child from the community living with them, a kid who needed to get away from a
abuse or some other problem at home.
The work of caring for the family fell to his mother mostly, because his
father was gone on medical calls most of the time, often late into the night. Their home also served as a collecting point
for clothes and other items donated to the Red Cross. During the Depression the Nelson kids would arrive home to find a
hobo sitting in a rocking chair in the living room either talking to their
mother or waiting to talk to her. It
wasn’t unusual for up to 10 hobos a day to stop at the Nelson home. His mother, who was part Irish, was very
warm and outgoing, optimistic and fun-loving.
It was his mother who spent many hours with Gaylord talking about
“anything and everything” and who kindled his interest in nature, plants and
parents were very active politically in the Progressive wing of the Republican
party, but it was his dad who usually took Gaylord to political events. There’s a great story of a time when
Gaylord’s father took him along to hear a political speech by Bob La Follette,
the son of Fighting Bob La Follette.
Gaylord was just 10 years old at the time. On the way home after the speech, his dad asked Gaylord, “ Do you think you might go into
politics?” Young Gaylord answered, “I
would, but I’m afraid by then Bob La Follette may not have left any problems
for me to solve.” Oh, the optimism of
taking care of the kids and home, Gaylord’s mother was the district Progressive
Party chair, president of the Clear Lake School Board, head of the Red Cross,
and a leader and activist in causes including family planning and women’s
suffrage, so Gaylord soaked up the idea of community involvement from both
his parents hoped Gaylord would become a doctor and he had had a lot of
experience helping his dad on doctor’s calls, it was politics that really
interested him. His high school
graduation speech was entitled “The New Deal.” The speech was indicative of the direction he was going.
important part of his upbringing was the dinner table conversation. It was his dad who helped focus attention on
issues far beyond “Please pass the potatoes” or “She’s kicking me under the
table.” He would ask the family to
respond to big questions like: “What
caused the First World War? “ or “Why did Chicago get to be so big?” Imagine how that would stimulate a kid to
impression I got was that Gaylord learned about service from his family. The fact that his parents were both so
involved in progressive politics helped him develop a progressive political
outlook and an outlet for making those values into reality. He also learned how to be a forthright and
honest person by seeing those characteristics in his parents and being urged to
exhibit them himself through his dad’s lectures, his mother’s switching, and
his whole village that helped him learn what decent behavior is. His love of nature came from direct
experience and from his mother. He
learned to look at the big picture from those mealtime questions.
Number 1: If we want a generation
to grow up to support looking out for others and working for the community, we have to look out for more than just
our own families. We have to demand
that our own and other children in the community respect others who are
different from themselves, and we have to demand honesty. We have to show them by example how to be
politically active and we have to take them to hear political speakers who are
moving in a positive direction. We
might also have to plant the seed: “Do
you think you might want to go into politics some day?” If we want our children to defend our
environment, we have to give them a chance to learn appreciation from what we
say while providing direct experience with nature. And we have to pose some big questions to them so they can start
to see things as systems.
needs some more dictionary pages?
II- HOW DID HE GET BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR HIS
question was, what was there about
Gaylord Nelson or his techniques that would make him so able to draw support
from both Republicans and Democrats?
Hardly anyone seems able to do that anymore. Maybe it’s the times, but maybe it is just plain political
know-how. When Gaylord Nelson came into
the Wisconsin Senate, he was one of 3 Democrats facing 27 Republicans. When he was governor of the state of
Wisconsin, he had a Democratic majority either only in one house or neither. In the US Senate, only 4% of the Congress
could be called environmentalists when he arrived in 1963. Yet after 7 years he
had launched the wildly popular Earth Day and in the next decade landmark
environmental legislation of all kinds came out of Washington. How did ever manage to get his programs
accepted and passed? Call this
Political Effectiveness 101.
preview, how Gaylord Nelson did it was by a combination of techniques. I think his strongest point was his love of
people and ability to be a friend and entertainer to people on both sides of
the aisle. That got him in the
door. Next, he wouldn’t hold a grudge
or allow a differing point of view to dictate whom he would enjoy. Civility kept the door open. He had good ideas that he knew how to
publicize, and he defended their cost as necessary to maintain the quality of
life in the future. He didn’t give up
when something failed the first time. He also knew how to compromise and how to
call in his political chips when necessary to save a good program. I could illustrate each of these points and
go on for 30 minutes, but I aim to cover only some of them in six.
give an example of his wit that showed up quite well while he was still
in Law School. In 1940 Gaylord didn’t
bother to take any of his tests because he had been out campaigning for young
Bob La Follette, so he signed up for an overload credits without getting
permission. Soon he was called up
before the dean. Here’s what passed
between them. Dean: You are barely passing your courses. How do you possibly think you can take more credits and pass
them? Gaylord said: I can just as successfully not study twenty credits
as I cannot study 15. He was allowed to take 20 credits, and as in the
past, he got through all of them with just one point to spare.
storyteller, I imagine he was something like Garrison Keillor in Prairie Home
Companion except that he told his stories about Clear Lake. He also would listen to other people’s
stories. Here’s what Senator McGovern said about how Gaylord made his way into
the US Senate as a freshman
“Gaylord was intrigued by other politicians.
Some he didn’t like very well, but there were very few that he walked
away from. He was interested in finding
out what made people tick, what was their background, how did they come into
the Senate, what do they do when they’re not on the Senate floor, what drives
them. I used to see him sitting in the
Senate sometimes – some fellow would be making a speech and Gaylord would be
studying the guy, not so much listening to what he was saying but trying to
figure out what makes this guy function the way he does. … He would come up to people in the
cloakroom or the dining room and listen to stories from senators he didn’t
agree with on anything – Eastland, Long, Stennis, and others. He got real joy out of listening to their
stories and backgrounds. It was a great
political asset, and it sort of endeared him to people. Here’s a guy who isn’t all that enamored of
the dignified ways of the Senate. You
could see him sitting around a restaurant or bar in Clear Lake telling those
stories. He became a real person rather
than just another vote to be counted.
People saw him as a human being and that increased his legislative
effectiveness. He could go to a
committee chairman and say, ‘Look, I’d appreciate your help.’ He was rather effective at moving things he
was interested in. He wasn’t a master
of the Senate rules, but he knew enough about the cloakroom and the dining room
and the back rooms so that he was quite at home with the Senate process.” (pp.
187-188 in The Man From Clear Lake) It also helped that Gaylord’s wife Carrie Lee loved to host
parties at their home. She was known
for being astute at picking an interesting mix of people from both major
parties. The parties flowed with alcohol,
boisterousness, and challenging conversation.
They were fun, but they definitely benefited Nelson politically.
It has to
be said that alcohol was part of Gaylord Nelson’s daily ritual and aided him in
politics. Recalling a compromise on a
thorny tax bill when he was governor,
Gaylord said, “We resolved the whole damn thing over a bottle of beer in
a tavern.” Alcohol was a big factor in
Washington as well, but civility was even more important . Gaylord Nelson
believed in civility, no matter what. “It’s a human institution,” he said of the
Congress. “There were people who, if
they proposed something, it automatically had a lot of opposition. Some people dislike people who don’t agree
with them. But I never personalized
it. If you’re mad and you carry a
grudge, it hurts you more than the person you hold the grudge against. They may not even know about it.”(p. 189, The Man From Clear Lake)
2-party situation, political success requires some compromise, and Gaylord was
good at compromising in more than one sense of the word. For example, when he was a new governor, he
learned that the Republicans planned to turn down all of his appointments. So after his first appointments were turned
down, he started choosing people who would have some natural support in the other
party “which would be politically tough for them and politically profitable for
me.” By making it hard for certain
senators to vote against specific appointees, he got his way.
one of Gaylord Nelson’s political tools was to call in his political chips when
it was absolutely necessary. In
Wisconsin he did this in order to pass his revolutionary ORAP - Outdoor
Recreation Act Program - over the opposition of the majority Republican party. A Republican businessman who liked what
Gaylord was doing found a way to let him know that in an emergency he could get
a YES vote on any piece of legislation Gaylord needed a YES vote for. All Gaylord had to do was let him know. Gaylord called in the chip which was a
positive vote from a Republican Senator who had been voting NO. The ORAP bill passed the Senate by that one
surprise YES vote.
go on with this political primer, but if I do, I know you will have every word
memorized on your dictionary pages. In
review, some guidelines for legislative success might be (1) Initiate programs
that benefit a lot of people, (2) Work hard for them, (3) Genuinely like people and help them have fun together with
you (4) Compromise in a way that doesn’t offend your conscience but does get
something done that you want, (5) Call
in your political chips when you have to, and finally, although I didn’t
mention this, (6) Never give up.
III - ACCOMPLISHMENTS - AN ILLUSTRATION OF OUR
Prairie Fire blurb I promised to discuss how Gaylord Nelson ‘s work demonstrated
and upheld a number of our UUA principles.
I shall do that by listing some legislation Gaylord Nelson initiated or
impressive to me was how Gaylord Nelson came to support integration of the
Armed Forces. During WW II he was one
of 4 white officers in charge of a segregated company of 200 black enlisted
men. His Black company had the worst
accommodations and no recreational facilities
and he also discovered that on a trip to Washington, D.C. with a black officer
friend, there was no hotel they could stay in together and few restaurants that
would serve them both. It’s no
coincidence that one of the very first bills he proposed when he came to the
Wisconsin legislature in 1949 was integration of the Wisconsin National
Guard. Clearly he understood our first
principle of “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” and our second
principle of “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.” Later on, in his first term as a US Senator
in 1963 he immediately signed onto no less than 5 civil rights bills and then
became a co-sponsor of President Kennedy’s sweeping civil rights legislation
later that year.
Gaylord’s social concerns were evident when
he was a new governor in 1959. Two of
his proposals directly related to justice, equity and compassion were
passed: increased worker compensation
benefits and a new center to treat emotionally disturbed children. In his second term he got the GOP
legislature to pass his proposals for a $5 million dollar student loan fund, a
state commission on aging, and increasing the state’s share of funding for
federal legislator Gaylord became known for his work for the underdog. He eagerly signed onto the War on
Poverty. He initiated numbers of
related bills during his time there.
Operation Mainstream made federal grants to state and local government
and nonprofit groups for conservation and recreation projects. His Teacher Corps proposal was adopted by
President Johnson. It sent recent college
graduates to poor schools after 3 months of intensive training with experienced
teachers. He fought against Nixon’s
attempt to close down the Office of Economic Opportunity which had had the Job
Corps, Head Start and Vista under its aegis.
In Nixon’s last month in office he signed Gaylord Nelson’s bill creating
a permanent, independent Legal Services Corporation to provide legal aid to the
poor. There’s more, but that’s enough
to give you the drift.
also involved in legislation to protect consumers. He took on both the automobile industry and the pharmaceutical
principle is about “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic
process.” Gaylord Nelson, though he
wasn’t a UU, would have fit right in with us on this too. He went to Washington opposing the
Communist-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee. During the Vietnam War, he felt really
uneasy about the infamous Tonkin Gulf
Resolution of 1964 and wanted to offer an amendment that would have made it
clear that direct military engagement was to be avoided. He was persuaded not to present it and voted
for the unamended Resolution. However, from then on he consistently voted
against increased appropriations for the War until its end in 1973 regardless
of the effect that could have had on his Senate career. His most famous words in opposition to the
Vietnam War came in May 1965 in the US Senate when he voted along with only 2
other Senators against increased appropriations for Vietnam that had been requested
by President Johnson. In opposing the
vote he said, “I need my conscience more than the President needs my vote.”
course we know him best for his idea of Earth Day that has been
commemorated every year since 1970. His
environmental work relates to our 7th principle “Respect of the interdependent
web of all existence of which we are a part.
since he had got to Washington, he had been casting around for some way to
bring the environment onto the front burner.
He had even convinced President Kennedy to make an environmental tour in
1963, but during the tour Kennedy strayed from the topic in practically every
speech. This was right after the
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty ratification vote in the Senate. All the reporters were more concerned about
that, and at that time there basically weren’t any environmental
reporters. But he didn’t give up. On a plane ride in California in 1969 he was
reading an article about the anti-war teach-ins, and “It popped into my
head. That’s it! Why not have an environmental teach-in and
get everyone involved?” As we say, the rest is history.
I want to
share one of the ways that he himself helped people understand how important
the environment is. He put it into his
1995 Earth Day address, the 25th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Part of the quote is on the handout about
his environmental accomplishments.
Listen to the whole quote: “I have a friend whose
guiding theology for all political matters is the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.” He
could never quite understand that there is a direct and beneficial connection
between a healthy environment and a prosperous economy until I described the
connection in the jargon of his business world. I said to him, ‘Look at it this way and the connection becomes
obvious. It is this – The economy is a
wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.
All economic activity is dependent upton that environment with its
underlying resource base. When the
environment is finally forced to file un chapter 11 because its resource base
has been polluted, degraded, dissipated, irretrievably compromised, then, the
economy goes down into bankruptcy with it because the economy is just a subset
within the ecological system.”
decade after 1970 showed that Gaylord Nelson had touched a chord with the
American people. Take a look at your
handout for a list of the major legislation passed then.
Final Words - From
Gaylord Nelson’s 1980 Earth Day address
In the 1970s, a sufficiently large and dispersed
group of people recognized the fragility and finite nature of the Earth’s
ecosystem, understood that “everything is connected to everything else,” and
accepted the responsibility not only to set straight the mistakes of the past
but to avoid repeating them in the future.
So long as the human species inhabits the Earth, proper management of its resources will be the most fundamentala issue we face. Our very survival will depend upon whether or not we are able to preserve, protect and defend our environment. We are not free to decide about whether or not our environment “matters.” It does matter, apart from any political exigencies. We disregard the needs of our ecosystem at our mortal peril.
That was the great lesson of Earth Day. It must never be forgotten.
Senator – 1949-1959
Governor - 1959-1963
Senator - 1963-1981
to the Wilderness Society – 1981-2005