The Democrats' downfall

My late grandmother, a Democratic party boss, would not be happy with the news about her beloved political party

Here in the States comes news that Democratic National Committee Chairman Thomas Perez has demanded that all Democrats support abortion rights. This got me thinking of another Democrat, a woman who rose through the ranks of the Democratic machine here in Rhode Island in the 1940s and 50s, who then shattered the glass ceiling of the City of Warwick’s Eighth Ward.

At a time when women in such positions were minor revolutions, my grandmother, Antoinette Patenaude, took the reigns as chair of her ward when her husband, who had held the position, died unexpectedly.

Because of this I never knew a time when women were not in charge in politics. It was common to see my grandmother run political meetings at her dining room table while I, sleeping over in my pajamas, my belly full with her old-school cooking and my face scrubbed, made puzzles in her living room.

She would take me knocking on the doors of her ward.

She would tell me to always be a Democrat because “Democrats look out for the little people.”

I never thought to ask my grandmother what she thought about abortion. I would suspect that she would frown upon it. As a woman who valued life, who witnessed injustices in the textile mills of the early twentieth century, who cared for her parents, who raised a family during the Great Depression, and whose two boys went off to the uncertainties of World War II, she had unique insights into life, death, sacrifice, and the abuse of power.

A few weeks after my grandmother died in 1992, the local paper wrote a lovely tribute to her. The reporter, Maria Miro Johnson, wrote “how hard it is to imagine her world, a world of people who stayed; stayed in the same state, town, neighborhood, the same quarter-mile city block where they were born.”

Today the world of my grandmother has succumbed to modern sensibilities. We move about incessantly and complain that we can’t find peace; we enter into the lives of others and leave just as quickly; we seek rights where we find pleasure and we reinvent cultural norms.

I suspect that if my grandmother were alive today she would feel overwhelmingly betrayed with her beloved Democratic Party—the people she helped bring to power

I remember my grandmother’s discomfort with the way the world was changing. For all her desire to see the progress of the little people—to see men and women allowed the privileges to live as they ought—her generation held fast to elevated expectations of what it means to be human, and what it means for cultures to be civilized.

Clearer than the memories of her activism as a party boss were those of her asceticism. She would pray the Rosary throughout the day. She was especially fond of novenas—those series of daily Catholic prayers offered for the intentions of one’s own heart and especially for those of others.

Rooting my grandmother’s politics was her faith in the living God and His presence at every Mass.

As a Catholic, she took seriously the miracle that God, who is love, intimately enters those who truly seek communion and with Him at Mass —and with everyone in this communion, on earth and in heaven. Thus God transforms us. As Pope Francis reminds us, those so graced can (if they choose) enter the world like my grandmother did to heroically help those on the margins of life.

I suspect that if my grandmother were alive today she would feel overwhelmingly betrayed with her beloved Democratic Party—the people she helped bring to power. She might even be a member of Democrats for Life. This is an underappreciated group that seeks to counter many of the movers and shakers in their party, especially those who have twisted the desire to embrace the outcast into support for harmful social norms, including not just abortion, but in some cases partial birth abortion—which is even more hideous than it sounds.

From her days working in mills, my grandmother disdained the powerful who suppressed the weak—who defined life and death however it benefited them. How tragic that the party she hoped would change all that, and which is so often on the front lines of environmental protection, has instead endorsed the very worldviews that she and her generation emphatically rejected.


Photo: Flicker/American Life League

About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.