I have to admit that I entered the fray of Omaha city politics with much the same wide-eyed idealism as Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and like him it didn’t take me long to discover that it wasn’t all platitudes and clover. There are hardnosed realities in American politics. We all know that, but in recent days, months and even years we have begun to wonder if this all can still work.
After the smoke cleared from the first volley in my appointment to the City Council, and that question was looming large in my mind, the guardian angels of my idealism swooped-in to save my resolve. Seasoned local politicians, journalists, city workers and staff stood by me to comfort, encourage and support me. Not only was I not alone, but I wasn’t alone by a longshot. As I’d always believed, hoped, the overwhelming majority of people in this city are good, honest, professional and hard-working souls, who are not swept away by the latest absurdity. Regardless of political affiliation, we collectively believe in the same things.
One old pol, who has more than enough scars to have shattered his idealism long ago, said to me with all the passion of a young advocate, “No one gets involved in city politics for the money or the fame. They come because they want to serve. They come because they want to help people. You got your appointment for one reason and one reason only. You have lived a life in service to others, and that’s what this is all about.”
And the funny thing is that I heard that message over and over from political leaders in both parties, and from local journalists who know where all the goats are buried. This really is a great city, and it is great because the people who live here understand that we need each other.
Over the past year, I have spoken about my neighbors often. They run the gambit politically, economically and culturally, but each is individually a good person, and not at all the caricatures that others would paint them. They all have different opinions on every topic, and even though they might disagree with you, they respect what you have to say. In every conversation I’ve had with any of them, I learn and grow. That is exactly the way it is supposed to be.
I always thought that I lived in a very special neighborhood. Before I even moved in, people would be out waving and smiling like they knew me. My next-door neighbor, a good union man, even mowed my lawn for a few weeks while I got settled. He never said a word, he just knew I was swamped and wanted to help. When there’s a big snow, the guys all get out their snow blowers and clear every sidewalk and drive on the circle – the single moms, the working men and the old – they help whoever needs it. It makes them feel good, and it gives everyone a little lift. It isn’t a big thing. It’s a very big thing.
As I’ve walked the neighborhoods in my district over the last few weeks, gathering signatures for my ballot petition, surveying the conditions of the roads and talking to the people, I’ve been a little surprised to discover my own neighborhood isn’t all that remarkable. From what I’ve seen so far, the people that live in one neighborhood aren’t that different from the people in another. As an old friend used to say, “The names are different, but the faces are the same.” This city is filled with good people.
The Pastor in my church on Sunday gave his sermon trying to address the civil unrest we’ve been witnessing over the last year. He wanted to help us make sense of it all. He related a quote by Mother Teresa that brought me to tears. “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
The sentiment that ran through me was beautiful and true, but I do not believe that Omaha or the United States is without peace. We live in a time when radicals have been given voice far beyond their limited numbers. They ring the bells but not of truth. The truth of our city and our country rests with the millions upon millions of peaceful Americans, from every walk of life, who truly live with the awesome understanding that we do in fact belong to one another.