Confessions of a Redneck Progressive
©2012 by Kirby Sanders
Yes sir. Yes Ma’am. I’m from Texas. My son and daughter are both bred citizens of the Republic. Their Mama is from Minnesota – but she “got to Texas as quick as she could”.
I am also a “Progressive” or a “Liberal” or whatever the currently expedient word is for a tough old bastard with a compassionate heart.
I like my chicken-fried steak with a mountain of mashed potatos (white gravy), a big-ass yeast roll, fried okra, a slab of apple pie as big as the King Ranch and sweet-tea. I also understand that jalapenos improve the taste of everything (with the possible exception of sweet-tea or apple pie). I like my barbeque dry-rub slow-smoked rather than smothered in tomato sauce (slaw on the side – not on the meat).
I like Demolition Derbies and Rodeos and have been known to consume my share of Shiner Bock (not to mention tequila straight-up with lime and salt). Yes – there’s some times in my past when a jaunt to the roadhouse for the aforementioned imbibements ended “not so pretty.”
So – how did I end up being a “Progressive-Liberal-Whatever”?
I grew up in a Texas different from the current crock of bull. I grew up in south and west Texas – with cabelleros and oil-patch trash; real cowboys who actually worked cattle and frontier societies that learned to either co-operate with one another or everyone died. I did not grow up among the society of Dallas bankers or North Texas’ displaced wealthy Confederate plantation owners.
I grew up in Houston during a time when drinking-fountains were still marked “whites only” or “colored water” and the Walgreens dining room downtown had two serving areas divided by a wall (same kitchen – but one serving room was for whites and the other for “coloreds”). Once upon a time, I drank from one of the “colored water” fountains in a downtown department store. I wondered what color the water was. The water was clear (same as the whites’ water) – only difference was that the whites’ water was cooled and the “colored water” was room-temperature warm.
Since about age 16, I have supported myself. I worked cattle in the Davis Mountains and dug ditches in Houston during July and August. In those experiences, I worked with Mexican-Americans, “Centros” of “questionable documentation”, blacks and the occasional Asian. As dirt-workers, we shared food and stories and dreams of what we hoped would be the future (ours and our children’s).
I spent few-and-far-between “days off” answering calls from local farmers and poor ranchers look for folks to help with a barn-raising. The only pay for another day of “sweat equity” was a good big lunch – but I knew that if the farmer succeeded, the community succeeded; and everyone would have more access to fresh fruits or veggies or good beef.
That process also taught me real quick that communities helped each other – and the bankers and former plantation owners helped themselves.
I knew I had “a way with words” and the sweat-equity days got old in a hurry. Pragmatically, I knew the pay for poetry and fiction is usually posthumous, so I went for work in radio or newspapers. (Radio used to have legitimate news blocks – I was never pretty enough for TV).
I hit-up the papers and radio stations from Houston to Dallas to Austin – and noticed one thing real quick. The papers and the radio stations up by Dallas always asked “who’s your daddy”. The guys from Houston to Austin and further west always asked “can you prove you can do the job?”
I worked a lot of “freebie barn-raising” gigs sending samples of work to papers and radios in South and West Texas. Spent hard-won ditch-digging money on tape recorders and other gear for the radio work.
Eventually, I got a gig as a copy-boy at a newspaper. I worked overnight shift sharpening pencils and “ripping wire copy” and picking up dinners for the overnight editors. Finally got my big break in a mass-murder case. Driving to a poor part of Houston to (politely) ask the mothers and fathers of dead kids “do you have a photo of your dead kid”.
I played that a little differently though – when I went to those bereaved homes, I asked questions – empathized – and took notes. I wrote up what the families told me and gave those to the editors along with the photos of the dead kids.
From there, things changed. I got a reporter gig at the Houston (TX) Chronicle. Me -just another dirt kid – a reporter at the Houston Chronicle. I was 18.
I focused everything I did on the empathy, the pathos and the social impact in every word of every article I wrote. I kicked ass when crooked public figures needed a kick in the ass. But I always gave them the opportunity to defend or justify their actions
I was raised in the news-biz by dinosaurs; hard-assed reporters with almost stereotypical hearts of gold (no “journalists” like Geraldo). I worked with wonderful people like Zarko Franks, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, Ann James, Ann Richards, Willy Nelson, Townes Van Zandt (a dear friend) .
Eventually, I transitioned into investigative work. Crooked cops; politicos on the take. I really pissed off the Ku Klux Klan and the Birchers by simply reporting what they were actually doing. No editorial anal-ysis. Just the facts.
In one case there was a suggestion that the Banditos and the Hells Angels were involved in some nefarious activities, so I said “Let me go ask them both.” Within a week I had interviewed the Angels on Tuesday and the Banditos on Wednesday. Wrote my article on Thursday — and live still to tell the tale.
I always remembered that I was a “dirt kid with a gift for words”. My job was to report to the people on the function of the system. Not to report the people to the system. To tell every side of a given “story” with equal weight (or lack thereof) as the story was told to me by those who were involved.
That, dear reader, is how I became a Texan “Progressive-Liberal-Whatever”.
It is not my place to tell you what to think. It is my place to give what you need to know (straight from the horses mouths) — which will, hopefully, help us to build a larger understanding of one another.
As far as I am concerned, it is all just a very long and somewhat expanded “sweat-equity” barn-raising.