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Essay: Young patriots battling in the arena of democracy

Opinions writer Saul Schachter of Sea Cliff, left,

Opinions writer Saul Schachter of Sea Cliff, left, with James M. Greenberg, a candidate for Nassau County Legislature who was a student of Schachter years ago. They were photographed Nov. 4, 2019, outside Schachter's home. Credit: Anna Kosyankova

A retired social studies teacher, I enjoy political campaigns. Indeed, my love of these exciting events began way before I became a teacher. It started in the eighth grade at North Shore Junior High  in Glen Head when I ran for president of the student council against the formidable Rick Mirabito. Giggly 13-year-old girls had crushes on him, but I was undaunted. I made signs and even adapted popular songs to make campaign ditties, “Love Shack” and “Soul Man,” which I changed to “Saul Man.” Despite what I thought were extremely clever moves, I lost by three votes.

That early setback aside, I still have a passion for the political process. I love political debates (without the name-calling that has become vogue) where two or three intelligent candidates argue over ideas that leave you thinking — and admiring those who offered those viewpoints.

I applaud the foot soldiers, volunteers for candidates who trudge up my front steps to ask me to sign their petition to save the environment, raise the minimum wage or help our senior citizens. They often appear tired and bedraggled, but they brighten when I thank them for their efforts — and offer them a bottle of water. They probably get a lot of doors slammed in their faces, but I applaud their sense of duty and, yes, their patriotism.

Ah, patriotism.

Somehow along the way,  we’ve lost the meaning of the word. Many think that saying the Pledge of Allegiance or singing the national anthem makes one a patriot. I would humbly suggest that these are nice gestures, but patriotism is a lot more. It’s being an informed citizen. It’s being tolerant of other points of view. It’s voting. It’s getting involved.

In 2008, I volunteered for Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. I joined dozens of others, riding Amtrak to Pennsylvania in late October. I reveled in the camaraderie on the train and knocking on doors in Pennsylvania. Don’t know whether I made much of an impact, but I was glad to do my part. In the past couple of years, I’ve made phone calls and stuffed envelopes for Rep. Tom Suozzi. The whir of activity at Suozzi headquarters was invigorating. All of which makes me proud to be an American.

I even enjoy — and I’m probably in the minority on this — seeing political lawn signs, even for candidates I don’t care for. It’s Americana! It bothers me when I hear of signs being stolen, torn up, spat upon. Why? These vandals rip apart the fabric of democracy. 

In the past few years, three former students of mine have been involved in politics. Jeff Vitale  ran for the State Assembly, and for  Sea Cliff Village trustee after being appointed to the job. Jonathan Mattner has helped out on political campaigns. This year, Jaime Greenberg (James M. Greenberg on the Nov. 5 ballot) ran for the Nassau County Legislature. They are Republicans, and I am a Democrat. Because of their stances on issues, I did not vote for Jeff and Jaime, but I am so proud of them! They put in endless hours on their campaigns. They gave speeches, shook hundreds of hands, stoically tolerated criticism and sacrificed their privacy — all to make a difference in the lives of their neighbors.

Jeff and Jaime lost their elections, but by their involvement they strengthened democracy. To me, all three are  patriots.

Reader Saul Schachter lives in Sea Cliff.

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