Anna Bennett goes after a Pestka vote on anti-Planned Parenthood bill in 2001. For her, it is proof positive of Pestka’s fundamental anti-woman stance, the crucial attack line for the Trevor Thomas campaign.
Reading it however, one can think of the role of time. After all ten years makes a big difference.
At the start of the millennium Grand Rapids was only beginning to emerge as the shining light in Michigan. Meijer Garden was just beginning to come into its own; downtown, the DeVos campus was newly built; and on the medical complex, a billion dollars worth of new construction was still on the planning boards (if that). Politically, there were stirrings, but in 2002 the new governor, Jennifer Granholm could not take the city; the now powerful Progressive Women’s Alliance had yet to be formed; and a progressive mayor was yet to be elected. The Grand Rapids that can host innovation like Art Prize, that makes a home for young adults and even invites them back, the Grand Rapids that Anna Bennett, Trevor Thomas and a wonderful set of others have found and made their own — that Grand Rapids was still being born.
And ten years ago Trevor Thomas was a high school senior, a good Catholic boy, going to school in the suburbs. What did he think then about this piece of anti-woman legislation? Was he already the pro-choice standard bearer he has become? Or was he like so many others in our city in that day, who worked in the factories during the week and knelt in the pews on Sunday? They voted consistently pro-life.
Now these were the same working class, skilled trades that knew Steve Pestka, that voted for Steve Pestka. The had nice homes on the NE side, or up on the hill; they attended Blessed Sacrament, Holy Spirit, St. Adalberts, St Als, St Izzies, or out on the west side, Anthony Padua. For ten years, Pestka had walked in their neighborhoods, stopped at their doors, learned their values. They were staunchly right to life; they could be maddeningly parochial, they often were skeptical on racial issues, and they disliked the Republican east-side managerial types. Pestka was not simply their representative, he could be an advocate for education or even for racial justice, but there was one voter for this community, and that was always going to be right to life.
The objection to the Pestka vote is in one deep sense an objection to the community he represented, and the same community which Thomas calls home. What this young criticism by a Thomas or a Bennett misses is the story of far we’ve come as a community. The Thomas campaign becomes plausible only because others have labored for a decade on small elections and large to build constituencies. The results of the end of the decade were no fluke. The work of Steve Pestka, his fellow commissioner Jim Talen, candidates like Peter VanderMeulen and others all worked to lay the foundation for a more vibrant party of today.
Ten years ago, no one thought Democrats could challenge for the congressional seat; today we have a sharp primary battle precisely because victory is a possibility. That possibility is the product of a host of pragmatic and progressive, known and unknown political activists, among them being Steve Pestka.
Ten years makes a difference. The question is now what do we do next?