I Was Elected, 50 Years ago Today
50 years ago today, I became the youngest-ever elected official in the state of Michigan, the first 18-year-old to do so. I was one of just a handful of 18-year-olds across the country to be voted into office after the recently-passed amendment to the U.S. Constitution lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.
I know what you’re thinking — fifty years ago?! What were you, 3? Indeed, the years have been, if not kind, they’ve left me my hair. Thank you, years.
The idea of running for the Board of Education was sparked on the day the assistant principal at my public high school grabbed me from behind, ordered me to bend over, and then, with a piece of wood that resembled a cricket bat the Marquis de Sade would have used, he beat me in front of a cafeteria full of 400 students, too many of whom enjoyed watching. He beat me six times. My crime? My shirt tail was not tucked in. That’s it. Back in the day, that was all it took for an act of state-sanctioned violence by an adult against a student in school.
When I got home, I picked up that day’s newspaper and a headline caught my attention: “School Board President Retiring; Election in June.” It didn’t take me more than a few seconds to finish my Butterfinger and decide that I must run. I called the city clerk to see if 18-year-olds could now also be elected to office. “Yes,” she replied. “You’ll need to get 20 voters to sign your petition to run.”
Twenty? That’s it? I knew twenty stoners who’d sign anything I put in front of them. I hopped on my Motebecane 10-speed, rode down to pick up the official ballot petition, and an hour later I was back from “Stoner Park” behind the shuttered movie theater with my 20 signatures — and a political life of sorts was born. I knocked on every door in the school district, some of them twice, and on Election Day, June 12, 1972, out of a field of eight candidates, I came in first. It made a lot of news because no 18-year-old had ever been elected to anything. The victory was achieved through the hard work and campaigning of hundreds of high school students who wanted their voices heard. We spray painted our own yard signs. We marched around town. A group of band students got someone to drive them all over town as they played rock and jazz in the back of a pick-up truck that was painted with signs that said “I LIKE MIKE!” We wanted an end to corporal punishment, an end to our segregated and protected white enclave, and an end to the Army recruiting for the Vietnam War at our high school. We also wanted the cafeteria declared a health hazard. We demanded students not be expelled if caught smoking cigarettes, and we wanted to stop being told what to wear. Or to tuck in our shirts.
I decided not to leave my town to attend the University of Detroit to study journalism as planned. Instead, I chose to stay and turn the part-time job of school board member into a full-time job of disrupting the assembly line of education that churned out robotic students who were taught to obey authority, question nothing, and be rewarded for their conformity and complacency. The local Republicans controlled the power structure so I wanted to bring that down, too.
I was lucky while in high school to be taught by young, lefty teachers, mostly between the ages of 22-30. Most of the priests and nuns at our Catholic Church in town were anti-war, anti-racist, forward thinking. Some of them played guitar.
My parents and grandparents taught us kids the importance of helping others, of being kind, to stand up for who we were.
All of this, as I look back, eventually led me to run for office and to try and right some wrongs. Within the first year I convinced the Board to remove the assistant principal who beat me. He later became a cop, but, you already knew that. To this day, I still don’t tuck in my shirt.
I tell this story mainly to encourage some of you, all of you, that it doesn’t take much to be engaged, to get involved. Even a kid can do it. We are at a point that if we all don’t push through our cynicism, dump our hopelessness and get off the couch, we are going to witness the end of our Democracy and the chance to turn that thing we call “life, liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” into a reality for everyone.
It starts by you running for local office. What are you waiting for?
It starts with watching the prime time January 6th hearing from last Thursday night (C-Span link) and telling everyone you know what you learned.
It starts with you understanding the power you already have — and using it. We are the majority.
Finally, to anyone who voted for me 50 years ago today — thank you! Let’s hope sometime soon I get a chance to vote for you.
— Michael “I LIKE MIKE” Moore
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