Joanne Palmer: Want to win? Run unopposed
September 18, 2012
I had a catchy campaign slogan the one time I ran for elected office:
"Don't step on our blue suede shoes: Vote for Palmer, Mathney and Goodfriend."
It was 1972, and I was running for senior class president. I was mad at the school administration, fired up to change things and convinced I could do it as class president.
Bathrooms motivated me to run for office. I gave impassioned speeches and promised that, if elected, my team and I would get the bathrooms in our high school unlocked, and we would be able to go to the bathroom again safely.
Let me explain.
In 1968, I was a freshman at a high school ranked No. 1 in the country by Time and Newsweek. The school had an Olympic-size swimming pool; a state-of-the-art media center where students could produce TV shows; language labs; and brand-new resource centers where a missed class could be watched on closed-circuit TV. There were 5,000 students.
There was only one problem: You couldn't go to the bathroom.
In 1968, schools were integrated in my hometown of Evanston, Ill. But relations between black and white students weren't good. Threats, intimidation and fights were commonplace, and the bathrooms were ground zero for such conflicts.
The administration's response was to lock the bathrooms on the second and third floors of the school. The only open bathrooms were on the first floor, and they weren't safe. Did they not understand how important a bathroom is to a teenage girl? We had major things happening in our bodies, and we needed somewhere to go.
Morale at this top-ranked high school was terrible. After complaining for three years, I decided to run for senior class president. I convinced two of my girlfriends to join me, and we made posters with our rock 'n' roll campaign slogan. No one cared about school politics and we ran unopposed. I was so excited to attend my first meeting with school administrators. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say and had a list of suggestions for them to consider.
They were not interested.
I tried again. Glazed eyes and bored faces.
I soon realized school officials had no interest in changing anything. I was crushed. A class president had absolutely no power. I was expected to make a speech at graduation, and that was it.
I was down but not out. I did what any self-respecting teenager would do and lobbied them for a concert. If I couldn't get the bathrooms unlocked, I at least would improve morale. The school had a long history of failed concerts, so with great reluctance, the administration approved it.
At the time, I had an all-consuming crush on Corky Siegel, lead singer for the Chicago blues band Siegel-Schwall. Corky was cute, he could play the blues harmonica like no one else and he wore red tennis shoes. I booked the band.
We got busy with an early version of social media. We talked to everyone and anyone who would listen. We covered the town and the nearby college campus with posters. We passed notes to one another between classes and created a buzz.
The concert sold out. The school made money, and I got to walk onstage and introduce Corky Siegel. It was the most memorable night of my four years in high school.
I lost interest in politics after that but never lost my resolve to stand up for what I believe in. Last week, I attended my son's high school open house. He is a sophomore. As I made the rounds of the classrooms and listened to teacher's talk about podcasts, parent portals and plans for the year, I was happy for him and excited he would have a chance to learn in a safe and nurturing environment. I even used the bathroom. Just because I could.