My First Political Hero
Written by Sarah Tooley
From the time I first became able to speak, I was surrounded by political influence. My very conservative, Republican grandmother made an extreme effort to make sure I knew the power of politics in this country. She has encouraged me to educate myself on the issues throughout not only election years or national crises, but day to day as well. We have had plans since I was three years old to not just celebrate my eighteenth birthday, but to celebrate the fact that I would then be a registered voter. She has made it her life’s mission to ensure that I would grow up to be an individual who was curious to explore the world to find truth and justice, and I am proud to say that as a young adult I am just that.
My grandmother gave me the spirit I needed to be able to always learn and grow in my own political beliefs. I am still cultivating and forming those beliefs; after all I am still a juvenile, punk seventeen year old. But looking back three years ago, there is one individual who made me really start to think about what I could truly do to be involved in the national political landscape. Although he has not walked this earth in thirty six years, he was the one who made one of the biggest impressions on me and truly changed the way I think.
Harry Chapin was a singer-songwriter with whom I fell in love with when I was in the eighth grade. You may know him as the obscure artist who sings the ultra-depressing song “Cats in the Cradle”, but I know him as my political hero. When I first discovered him I become utterly infatuated with many of his tracks like “I Wanna Learn A Love Song”, “W*O*L*D”, or “Mr. Tanner”. His narrative style was so appealing; he was able to capture such raw human emotion is his lyrics. I loved his folk ballads so much that I decided to read up on this man who had captured my heart. He lived a very short life of thirty eight years, his musical career only lasting for ten of those. But in that time he lived a very generous, giving life. Over half of his live performances were benefit concerts raising over $5,000,000 for a variety of charities, resulting in him donating over half his income each and every year to charity. His life work did not end there though, he was also a champion for congressional action. He was a frequent lobbyist the last few years of his life, often spending a majority of his week in Washington and then flying out to a distant city to perform. He sought out the support of Congressmen, like Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, to establish a Presidential Commission in 1978 to seek out the root causes of both domestic and world hunger. Harry also co-founded World Hunger Year (WHY), a national organization that promotes grassroots solutions to eliminate the problem of hunger. Harry kept himself busy with his activist work until the very end. On the way to a charity concert, he was killed by an accident on the Long Island Expressway July 16th of 1981. Although his life was cut short, he left behind an extensive legacy.
To me, Harry Chapin represented the fighting spirit and tenacity we so desperately need in our nation today. He utilized his music career to advocate for civic involvement. Often Congressional offices were flooded with phone calls and letters from areas that Chapin had just performed in. He went above and beyond what was expected of him. Harry knew that beyond raising money, the power of legislation would have a lasting effect on the issue of hunger. He demonstrated that no matter what path you take in life, you have a voice and you can make it as loud as you want. Now being a writer for YGG and being a self-declared youth activist, I want to carry on that spirit I first admired in Harry Chapin. He has been a light in my life that has shown me what I really want to do with my life: find my voice and be an advocate for social justice. Thank you Harry; I want the fact that I existed to mean something too.
“The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll.” The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Simon & Schuster, 2001, www.rollingstone.com/artists/harry-chapin/biography.
Strickland, Carol. “Harry Chapin: All His Life Was a Circle.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Oct. 1997, www.nytimes.com/1997/10/19/nyregion/harry-chapin-all-his-life-was-a-circle.html.
“Harry Chapin.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 16 June 2015, www.biography.com/people/harry-chapin-248869.