"The news of Congresswoman Julia Carson’s death over the weekend came as a heavy blow to those of us who had voted for her, and loved her, for many years. A few weeks ago, when she revealed she had been suffering from cancer, most of us assumed she’d brush the illness away like she had so many other obstacles during her long career.
Every two years after her election to Congress in 1996, local Republicans attacked her viciously and assumed people would throw her out of office. One after another, rich conservatives would take her on and, one after another, they’d fall in defeat.
The right-wing local media, especially certain radio talk show hosts, derided her for her appearance, her mannerisms and her populist views. But voters knew better.
Julia Carson cared more about the poor, the disenfranchised and the powerless than any other politician in Indiana history. She may not have been the slickest or the most glamorous person but she had so much charisma that it was impossible not to admire her.
Unlike just about every other politician these days, Carson was not born to a rich family. She didn’t have wealthy parents to send her to the best schools and to groom her for political office.
Julia Carson worked hard for everything she had. She earned, through hard work, whatever earthly treasures she had. But even as she became more successful, she never forgot where she came from. And she never stopped fighting for those of us who aren’t rich and powerful.
Her success mystified political pundits. When smooth-talking, well-funded Republicans ran against her, they barely disguised their contempt for her. She didn’t wear fancy clothes or use scripted rhetoric like they did. When she spoke, she spoke from the heart, remembering everything that had happened before in her life.
She wasn’t afraid to speak frankly to the most powerful people in the country. President Clinton talked in 2000 about how he’d learned to just give Carson whatever she wanted. Even President Bush, whose policies are designed to prevent people like Julia Carson from succeeding, had to admit she was a straight-talker.
But what Carson will be remembered for most is the way she helped people. There are thousands of people who may not be alive today had Julia Carson not been there to help. As Center Township trustee, she literally fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless and clothed the naked. She extended a hand to the most desperate among us when nobody else would. Her dignity and compassion made people love her.
Perhaps her most insightful decision in Washington was her vote against Bush’s deceit-driven, misbegotten war in Iraq. When many progressive voices were afraid to speak out against Bush, Carson spoke in a loud voice.
“With most people’s retirement accounts in the tank, the federal accounts drenched in red ink and so many people out of work, don’t we have better and less violently fatal ways to spend money?” she asked during a House debate in 2002. “… So why war now? Mr. Rove, the White House politics man, is on record as saying that war is good for his party to win elections. Is this, then, a political question or a moral one?”
With assurance and passion, she ended by saying, “In good conscience, I cannot cast my constituents’ vote for this latter-day Gulf of Tonkin.” Time has proven her right.
There will never be another Julia Carson because the system has been changed to keep people like her from being elected. Without money and prestige, you can’t be elected to any office. The voices of the Julia Carsons of today will no doubt be stifled and oppressed by the big-money interests that control our country.
That is precisely why so many of us loved her so much. She couldn’t be silenced, no matter how much the conservative ruling elite wanted to shut her up. She was truly a people’s representative, speaking up for the people who didn’t have a voice in government.
he best way we can memorialize this great public servant is to make sure her successor is as dedicated to the causes of peace abroad and justice at home as she was.
Every election season, her red campaign signs were in the yards of her supporters. In simple white text, they said, “We love Julia.” No last name was needed.
When I heard that she had passed away, I thought of those signs. We loved you, Julia, and we still do. Thank you for everything you did for us.