While sitting in the middle school parking lot, waiting for the Daughter to come home from a three-day trip to Washington, DC, we heard on the radio Randy Cohen interviewing Ruth Messinger, the liberal firebrand on the New York City Council from 1978 to 1989, representing the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Then from 1990 to 1998, she served as Manhattan borough president.

The most interesting thing she said was that she had always been very clear on her political priorities. She was pro-women’s rights, pro-choice, anti-death penalty. (I noted aloud that, over the years, I’ve been far less certain than she proclaimed to be.)

Someone in the City Council had proposed providing a needle exchange for drug addicts, a response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, in which many people spread the disease through the use of shared needles. Messinger, concerned that providing needles would only encourage the addicts to use, opposed the measure.

Ruth Messinger said that, apparently as a result of her long-standing liberal record, the bill’s supporters decided that she was, her word, “educable”. At 11:30 at night, just three miles from her posh district, bill supporters took her to meet some of the people who could be affected by the bill, with their illegally acquired, clean needles. They told their stories of addictions they could not, at that point, overcome.

Ruth Messinger changed her mind. I tell this, not on the specifics of the issue, but rather over the belief people had in her that she could be swayed by the examples.

Too often, I read about the person who, in attempting to “cross the aisle” or even sound conciliatory, is branded a traitor, a RINO (or DINO) – Republican (or Democrat) In Name Only. People who vote for a Presidential appointee that someone doesn’t like are considered irredeemable. Saying something nice about an individual from “the other side” is considered selling out.

I’ve read, in publications from both sides, that we need a new system. But short of armed insurrection, how do you get there? By working with the folks you have now without expecting ideological purity.

Most civil rights change has come from people who used to see things one way but came to believe another. That’s Politics, with a capital P. And you work electorally to remove the obstructions. It’s S-L-O-W, often intentionally so, but (crosses fingers on both hands) achievable.

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