“When his Republican candidate for President got beat… my Dad (store owner J. J. Andre) had to wheel his friend, Democrat John Norton, down Higuera Street in a wheelbarrow.”
Attorney Peter Andre, longtime chair of the San Luis Obispo County Republic Party, observed that things were different in the 1920s and 30s. “In those days, if people argued over politics, they quickly became friends again once the election was over.”
For Andre, family came before politics. When his brother, George Andre, returned to San Luis Obispo from his legal practice in Southern California and ran for the Assembly as a Democrat, Peter felt obligated to resign as Republican County Chair to support him.
Thanksgiving is a day when we should joyously express our gratitude for the gift of living. Amid the tragic wildfires, cultural and political divisions that have confronted us recently, this isn’t always easy to do.
Yet there’s hope both from the past and the present.
San Luis Obispo, throughout its modern history has generally been a tolerant, accepting and diverse community. Nevertheless, when in April 1925, the Grand Dragon of the Klan came over from Taft to stir up feelings against Catholics and Jews, many felt that era of tolerance was over.
However, within a month, Louis Sinsheimer, the Jewish Mayor of San Luis Obispo, and Young Louis, the eldest son of Chinese merchant Ah Louis, were working with Father Daniel Keenan, the newly appointed pastor at the Old Mission, to promote La Fiesta de los Flores, to raise funds to restore the church ravaged by fire in 1920 and for building a new Mission School.
My wife Liz’s and my own friendship with former SLO Mayor Ron Dunin transcended political differences. We didn’t really get to know Dunin until 1987, when he appointed us to the first San Luis Obispo Holocaust Remembrance Commission.
The commission had weekly meetings that Len Davidman beautifully chaired. Every issue was thoroughly discussed, and as a result we got to know one another well.
We were impressed with Dunin’s deep dedication to the event. Despite a heavy schedule with city business, he attended most of our many planning meetings.
Liz asked why a Polish-American Christian was so concerned with preserving the memory of the Holocaust.
“I wouldn’t be alive if the Jewish underground had not helped me escape,” Dunin said. “More than that, however, I saw what the Nazis were doing to my Jewish friends. I still cry when I think of what occurred.”
Liz’s father, Bud Ogren, criticized us for being friends with Republicans like the Dunins. Ogren came to share our view of Dunin as a result of his work in hospital ministry for Nativity Parish.
Ogren stood 6-foot-4, had a prolific beard and used a staff to support his back. When Dunin had serious surgery at Sierra Vista, Ogren was there to share a prayer with him when he came out of anesthesia.
Dunin blurted out, “Moses, you’ve come to get me!”
There could be no stronger bonds of friendship. We could still joke about our differing political views. Dunin would say, “That’s the American way! In the Europe that I grew up in during the 1930s, such conversations could get you killed.”
In today’s America, sadly, the “my way or the highway” political party approach is lethal.
The “no political discussions” rule that applies to so many family Thanksgiving dinners may sometimes be a good thing, but if we cut off all dialogue, we ultimately stifle our democracy.
Let’s get back to talking across the table again. We may find that we have more in common than we think.