Like much writing related to specific events, eulogizing depends a great deal on happening across the idea that provides the point — the meaningful summary drawn in a sentence. Speaking of the passing of her father — Harry Staley — Harriet Lloyd provided that idea for both Harry and my recently deceased local friend and ally Robert Hayden: He “gave his retirement to Rhode Island.”
Harry was the point-man founder of the Rhode Island Shoreline Coalition, which became the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition (RISC, either way), which then became RI Taxpayers. The founders of Anchor Rising started our Web site within the same wave of people who could see where the state was headed and realized that hoping others would do something about it was no longer an option. We were just expressing our opinion, but Harry was a big part of what made us think that there was a chance that we could have an effect.
Bob was a founding force in the Rhode Island Tea Party/Patriot movement some years later, when a much bigger, more-populist wave of back-to-our-intellectual-roots conservative reformers decided that more needed to be done to stop the trajectory of not just Rhode Island, but the entire United States of America. The large initial rallies were a breath of encouragement, no doubt, but no event has summed up the sense that folks like Bob have of their nation’s circumstances better than the surprisingly emotional annual reading of the Declaration of Independence that his wife, Susan Anderson, conducts in Tiverton. (This year will be no exception, despite the timing.)
Folks in the media don’t know what to make of us conservative Rhode Islanders. One gets the impression that they see us as a strange cult, who can’t possibly believe what we profess to believe and who must have some deficiency or ulterior motive in order to walk the streets proclaiming it. The activist progressives, who long for nothing so much as people to paint as villains in order to divide society, go one step beyond puzzlement or bemusement and happily attribute to us evil motives.
Both groups (to the extent that they are distinct) miss the big story — the significant reality.
It was astonishing to me, when I was doing my best to raise a family, work full time as a carpenter, keep Anchor Rising going as a positive force in the state, and help protect taxpayers in my town, that I encountered retired people who placed tighter limits on their involvement than I did. “I can’t run for office; I’m retired,” they’d say.
I guess I can understand the inclination. After a lifetime of work and planning for some years of enjoying life before it ends, finding a moral necessity to battle entrenched (probably unconquerable) special interests must feel like a conspiracy to take away everything for which one has worked, with time being most precious. To younger adults, who are devoted to building their lives, the shackles of the Rhode Island establishment are just another obstacle to overcome. We can feel overwhelmed, but from a certain perspective, civic participation isn’t an unexpected burden… just another burden.
In past times, the young went off to war, and the old stayed home and helped to keep the home front going. In Rhode Island and the U.S.A., the challenge of our day is a soft war, at home, against a growing government apparatus. Bob and Harry took up their swords.
They had made Rhode Island their home, and they wanted to make it a better place. They weren’t acting out of selfishness (as some have slandered), but selflessness. They had no ulterior motives but to do what’s right.
In that regard, they are representatives, after a fashion. Not of districts of constituents, but of all of us who feel as if we’re answering a call.