Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Running with Conviction

Read Charlotte Canelli's column in the February 27, 2014 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

            When Marian Walsh was 33 years old, she sensed that something was missing in her life. Born into a loving family in one of Boston’s southernmost neighborhoods - Roslindale, Walsh attended and graduated from Ursuline Academy in Dedham and Newton College of the Sacred Heart in Newton Centre (part of Boston College since 1974). 

             By 1988, she had several advanced degrees – a master’s degree from Harvard’s Divinity school and a law degree from Suffolk University.  Yet, Walsh felt what she now describes as a ‘void’ in her life. She had been raised with a sense of gratitude – or paying it back. That feeling of appreciation became a passion for public service as a means to pay it forward.

             Marian Walsh recounts the story that when she reported her father that she wanted to run for office, he cautioned her to go home and sleep on it. Her father had and has always been one of her role models and an inspiring example of goodness and faith.  Dr. Walsh might have even hoped that she’d change her mind.
             Marian did sleep on it and soon after she decided she wanted to become a representative in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

            And that meant she would have to RUN.

            And so, she began in the winter of 1988 to RUN for the office of representative in the Massachusetts House. In the next eight months, she learned how to challenge others in a primary and general election to win a seat to serve the 10th Suffolk District. Her efforts were methodical and organized, ground swelling and successful.  Marian discovered that it doesn’t matter how many votes you get –what matters is that you get enough votes to win.

            Sometime before last Christmas, I was sent Marian’s book “Run: Your Personal Guide to Winning Public Office” (2012) and asked if I would be interested in interviewing Marian for Norwood Public Access –TV. I’m always enthusiastic about reading, of course, and find meeting and interviewing authors challenging and rewarding.  And fun, to be honest. I’m not particularly camera-shy, and interviewing is my preferred camera-time. I agreed, and we set a date for the interview. (Check NPA-TV schedules for times and dates that this interview will be broadcast).

            I took Marian's book with me over my Christmas holiday vacation, wanting to find some time to begin reading. My poor husband, Gerry, found it there on my nightstand and finally asked one day if I were planning on running for office. I certainly thought he knew me better than that! The last election in which I ran against an opponent was in 8th grade. I lost. That explains why, while I’ve been elected many times to boards of the organizations I volunteer for, I never run opposed but prefer the automatic shoe-in vote.

However, while I wasn’t planning to compete for a political office, I wanted and needed to read Marian Walsh’s book cover to cover before the interview.  Not only did I want to know more about our former senator, I was curious about her journey to the State House. I quickly realized that it is not just a useful book for potential candidates, but a book about following your heart, keeping your faith, and continually challenging yourself.  It is a personal story of Walsh's strength, resolution, inspiration, organization, and realization of a goal.

            Additionally, it’s a reminder about the freedom we cherish as Americans, particularly those of us who live so close to where it all began in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence.  The cover of Walsh’s book depicts a beloved work of art – one of Norman Rockwell’s “Four Essential Human Freedoms”, the “Freedom of Speech”.  In the introduction to her book, Marian instructs the reader that Rockwell was inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address to Congress on January 6, 1941.  Rockwell’s series of four oil paintings were completed by 1943, and they included the Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear.  The four appeared in the Saturday Evening Post and then toured the country on exhibition, raising money for war bonds.  Roosevelt’s rousing speech was eventually included in the charter of the United Nations. 

            Marian Walsh was the first woman to serve in the Massachusetts House and the Massachusetts Senate.  She ran in nine consecutive races, one for the House and eight more for the Senate and she served a total of 22 years before retiring from public office in 2010.  Her book includes personal stories, insight, and advice that will help anyone who is thinking about running for public office.  That office could be anything – a spot on the board of library trustees or the board of selectmen, or a seat in the State or Federal legislature. 

            Included in the narrative (the narrative often alternates with practical advice, lists, and checklists), are testimonies of Walsh’s own personal struggles with the opinions of her district and her own opinion.  She discusses four serious and heart-wrenching issues, including her stand on Civil Marriage for gay and lesbian citizens of Massachusetts, abortion, the death penalty, and the Catholic clergy abuse scandal.  She shares her personal struggle, her months of research, her challenges of faith, and the road to her own commitment. Marian describes how these demands taught her to become comfortable in uncomfortable discussions, even those when she knew she was at odds with her constituents.

Walsh's journey is proof that getting elected takes a family, nearly an army of volunteers – friends, family and supporters to walk beside on the campaign road.  She provides much practical advice (bring water, store a change of shirts in your car, knock on each and every door you find, keep a smile on your face, and hand write thank you notes every day.)

            Possibly the most important advice of all is that you must be present.  Nothing should distract you from your personal connection.  Put the cell phone away, put the coffee or tea down, and tuck any notes you receive into your pockets for reading later.  Every voter deserves your attention, your smile, and your honesty and conviction.

            Marian Walsh will be speaking at the Morrill Memorial Library on March 10 at 7:00 in the evening.  I encourage you to attend.  Please call or visit the library to reserve a seat to hear her personal story.