POV

Why I Still Vote

There was Bobby Kennedy, in the golden beach sunshine, probably paraphrasing his credo that he “dreams of things that never were and says, ‘Why not?’”

Story and Photos by Ira M. Langstein - iralangstein@mac.com

Bobby Photo © Ira M. Langstein

Long Beach Back Then Photo © Ira M. Langstein

When I was a young boy growing up in Long Beach, New York, Robert F. Kennedy came to our town. I remember he was giving a speech near the boardwalk, Long Beach’s signature attraction. As I still often look at the picture of him that my father, a Long Beach volunteer fireman, took of him while holding me on his shoulder. There was Bobby Kennedy, in the golden beach sunshine, probably paraphrasing his credo that he “dreams of things that never were and says, ‘Why not?’” I was too young to remember the particulars, but the sense of optimism, and the respect for public service stayed with me for years. Soon after, Bobby was shot and killed in Los Angeles, and the dream died.

Americana Photo © Ira M. Langstein

Now, over 40 years later, I visited that same boardwalk where Bobby spoke, but it is now destroyed, the unrelenting punishment of superstorm Sandy leaving flotsam and jetsam, including pieces of the boardwalk, all over town. Long Beach, and the neighboring town of Island Park, where I also lived as a boy for several years, have been reduced to shambles. Homes are destroyed, Long Beach has no running water or sewage, and thousands are without power, food, and own nothing except what they can carry. My own view of the relief effort is mixed. FEMA, and the local power companies are working to restore basic services and provide food and water, but why is it taking so long? Why are the results so mixed and arbitrary?

Volunteer Firemen Photo © Ira M. Langstein

The citizens of Long Beach and Island Park are good people, hard working people, good neighbors… I know them. This week I’ve seen friends’ and families houses ruined. The civic spirit is incredible, but let’s face it: no bake sale, generous restauranteur, lucky folks with generators—no amount of selflessness will be enough to rebuild everyone’s lives that were devastated. The only machinery that can supervise the job is an entity that collects our pooled money—the government. Today, half of our country sees government as an enemy, wasteful, and the cause of many problems. In many instances, they are right. Anyone who lived in Long Beach in the 1970’s remembers the urban blight that scarred our streets as a result of poor government decisions. But blaming government is not the answer. We are responsible to vote en masse and elect competent managers. If Thomas Jefferson were here on Long Island today, he would blame us, not government, for its failures. The people are sovereign in America. Public officials serve at our pleasure, not the other way around. Jefferson would ask if we complain about our government officials, then why aren’t we serving?

Ira and Father Photo © Ira M. Langstein

I took some heartbreaking pictures of Long Beach after the storm and showed them to my sixteen year-old son. I said that we were once an agrarian nation, then urban, and then suburban, and now here we are, flailing and pointing fingers. I told him that the next step for America is to go from a suburban nation to a sustainable nation. I told him we need him and his friends to pick up the pieces and do the job as he gets older. We were playing with fool’s gold in the 1990’s, as good working people were kicked to the curb and all of our resources have wound up in the hands of bankers and government bureaucrats. That’s not the America I grew up in. That’s not the America that Bobby Kennedy talked about, one where the public and private sectors work together instead of undermining each other. I pushed my brother towards RFK in the playground of Magnolia School as he was boarding his helicopter to leave, and my brother shook his hand and said, “Hi, Mr. Kennedy.” It was a magical moment. We need to recreate that magic, and teach our children to get involved in the process and tolerate all opinions and options. Casting my vote is the easy part—the hard part begins when we as a nation must demand that our President and lawmakers finally lead and fix America together.

Bye-Bye Boardwalk Photo © Ira M. Langstein

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