Tuesday morning, 4-8-14, Austin, Texas
Inside a small elementary school in Middletown, Connecticut, I first exercised my fundamental American right. I cast my first vote on that Tuesday in November 1980 for Jimmy Carter as President. He didn’t win, but to his great credit, he remembered. Tonight we’re having dinner.
Right now it’s well before breakfast, and I am gearing up for Day 1 of the Civil Rights Summit from the lobby of The Driskill. It is an elegant hotel: huge columns and chandeliers and marble floors with classical music pumped in round the clock. It has a bona fide Old West history: built by a cattle baron who supplied beef to the Confederate Army. According to legend, Jesse Driskill ultimately lost ownership of the hotel in a poker game. Various whispers on the world wide web claim that he surfaces from time to time here in what is supposed to be one of America’s most haunted hotels. I haven’t seen him yet, but I’ll keep you posted.
The Driskill was an important place for Lyndon Baines Johnson. This is where he had his first date with Claudia Taylor – a woman who would become “Lady Bird Johnson.” This is where he watched election returns in 1960, when he and JFK were narrowly ushered into office, and again four years later when he won the Presidency over Barry Goldwater.
In a few hours, Missy and I will head over to the LBJ Presidential Library for Day 1 of the Civil Rights Summit. We will take in the morning Educators’ Workshop—meeting a group of people I will be addressing tomorrow—and then attend three afternoon sessions.
The first (“Gay Marriage: A Civil Right?”) has former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson as one of the panelists. The second, on immigration policy, includes former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and San Antonia Mayor Julian Castro, an “across the aisle” panel that should be quite lively. Then comes “Music and Social Consciousness” with Graham Nash and Mavis Staples.
After that, it is time for the “Conversation With Jimmy Carter,” the irrepressible 89-year-old who, with each passing day, seems to be gathering the courage of his convictions with more and more force. Like his politics or not, I think you have to admire his relentless push to try to make this a better place. By “this,” I mean both the United States and the planet.
Afterward, we’ll be dining—along with, I presume, quite a few others.
Tomorrow, President Clinton comes to town, followed on Thursday by President Obama and President George W. Bush. It’s a rare thing, of course, for so many Presidents to gather in one place. When it has happened in the past, it’s all been ceremonial: inaugurations, state funerals, etc. This is different in a way that feels—for all our troubles—deeply hopeful. They are coming together in the name of civil rights. They are here in the service of our age-old fight to build a “more perfect union,” to move toward that “beloved community” that Dr. King dreamed of so eloquently.
We fall short again and again. There are acres of hypocrisy. Huge problems that need huge attention. We are far, far away from “liberty and justice for all.” But this is still an extraordinary country. The CRS might not be a giant leap, but it strikes me as a small—but significant—step in the right direction.