Paul Hodes: A Public Apology to My Son, The Wall Street Protestor

I got a call recently from a staffer at the New Hampshire Democratic party.
It went something like this:

“Congressman Hodes?”

“Yes”

“We’re getting calls from the Press. What do you want us to say?”

“Press calls? What about?”

“You don’t know?”

“No, what’s going on?”

“I can’t believe I’m the one telling you this. It’s about your son.”

“What about my son?”

“Well, he’s been arrested on Wall Street. You didn’t see the story in the Wall Street Journal?

When someone calls and says they have news that you should have known about your son, all kinds of things go through your mind. In this case, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Arrested on Wall Street? Piece ‘o’ cake compared to the other possibilities that cascaded through my mind.

It turns out Max was arrested for wearing a mask while demonstrating, under an ordinance dating to 1845 banning masked gatherings in New York City. He was held for a couple of hours and charged with loitering.

As the news got around, including the mention on TV of a “28 year old man from Concord, NH,” friends and political activists called and emailed in support of Max’s camping out at Zucotti Park.

Last night he told us that he had taken charge of dealing with the “waste stream”. He wants to set up a recycling system and then deal with the other waste stream to lessen the burden on the McDonalds, which has been turned into a de facto group Porto—Potty.

As the movement has spread and grown, I harkened back to the dark days during the Vietnam war. I got to college in 1968.  First students, then many others had already taken to the streets.

Then came Cambodia, The March on Washington, Kent State. Deep divisions over trust in Government and questions of patriotism wracked families and the nation.  Many of us who were students then remained committed to working for change when our government was on the wrong track.

My student days were part of my own political foundation when I decided to run for office in 2004, to try to help change the nation’s course under the Bush administration.

At 28, Max belongs to a generation that he says fears for its future, suspects that both parties are bought and paid for by the “forces of greed” and believes that our dysfunctional politics ignores the real pain and suffering that working people, the jobless, the homeless, the sick, the disabled, the elderly, and the disadvantaged are experiencing.

To Max and his cohorts, we live in a society where income inequality appears to be institutionalized policy. They see a world where greed has replaced need as the organizing principle. They watched the government bail out the banks, which had wrecked the economy and now hear cries from the tea party to cut the heart out of the social safety net. So, my son has taken to the streets.

As a parent, I had surprisingly conflicted feelings. On the one hand, we brought up our kids to be independent and express themselves. But, I want my boy safe and secure. I don’t want to hear he’s been beaten or maced.

As a former Congressman still somewhat in the public eye, I felt conflicted about my son’s arrest and what it might mean for me. The instinct for issue alertness, once kindled, is hard to extinguish.

So when my former Chief of Staff, now my colleague, cautioned me to caution Max not to speak to the press, I succumbed to that caution and passed that request on to Max.

He was furious as he had every right to be. He told me so in no uncertain terms.

Max was right. Who am I, of all people, to try to silence a peaceful voice exercising his rights to speak out against perceived injustice? Max is capable of making his own decisions, exercising his own judgment and speaking with his own voice.

I may have chosen a different path to work for change, and I may have a different perspective on our government, but Max and I are bound together as family and in wanting our country to be better. I believe change is hard, but I’ve seen that it’s possible, and I will continue to work inside the system to change what needs to be changed.

Max is, I dare say, less optimistic but more vocal. The great thing about our country is that Max has every right to peacefully protest, even without any defined group objective. That’s what our Constitution says, and that’s what I say.

So, this is a public apology to my son. I trust something good will come from his experience, for him and for the country. And, I hope he stays safe.

Meanwhile, I’m going to hold my tongue when the urge to remind him to wear a sweater strikes.

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