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Growing Up Democrats
Almost four decades ago, a group of Detroit teens
gave their own definition to political activism.
JENNIFER FINER STAFF WRITER
elevision sets were tuned year to year, but it is estimat-
into "American Bandstand" ed there were 50 active mem-
and "The Mickey Mouse bers in its heyday — the John
Club." It was the year F. Kennedy campaign.
Hawaii became the 50th state.
While some members remain
Dwight D. Eisenhower was serv- politically active in their adult
ing what would be the end of his years, others do not. Nonethe-
presidency, and the Vietnam War less, some of the aging and not-
loomed on the horizon.
so-young Democrats are in the
At the same time, 1959, a midst of planning a reunion for
group of ambitious, politically the fall. A specific date has not
minded adolescents on the been set.
northwest side of Detroit were
"Part of the problem is we nev-
redefining grassroots politics.
er kept a roster," said Avra
That year, a gathering of Coblentz Weiss, who met her hus-
high-school students, mostly band Leslie (Laszlo) Weiss
from Mumford and Cass Tech, through the group. The couple is
formed a student-run organiza- helping with reunion plans. "We
tion called the Northwest De- had people coming and going all
troit Teen Democrats. In its the time. Now, identifying and lo-
six-year existence, group mem- cating them is difficult." So far,
bers, not yet old enough to en- they have 85 names.
ter the voting booths, provided
Last-week, a half-dozen mem-
countless hours of manpower to bers met at the Bloomfield Hills
select Democratic candidates.
home of their former teacher
They worked on the cam- and founder of the group, Wal-
paigns of former U.S. Sen. Phil ter Goodman.
Hart, former state Sen. Jack
Mr. Goodman, now retired
Faxon, former Secretary of State from teaching, served as the
Richard H. Austin, former Gov. general manager of the Michi-
G. Mennen (Soapy) Williams gan State Fair from 1961-1967
and owns Wells Freight & Car-
As far as anyone in the group go in Birmingham. He said he
can remember, the young Dems started the group because he
only worked on one losing cam- came across so many young peo-
paign, Jack Faxon's early bid ple who "wanted to express their
for the state House. When he won liberalism."
a subsequent election, the group
"That was a time when young
recalls serenading him with the people were aware of the social
song "Hit the Road Jack."
problems in this country," Mr.
As political allegiances were Goodman said. "The teen mem-
formed, so were bonds of friend- bers owned the organization,
ship and even a few marriages.
and they knew it. The adults
"We hung out on political were silent, and those were gold-
campaigns," said Lynne Mason en moments."
Konstant, a member of the or-
Besides the daunting task of
ganization. "It was the greatest locating past members, the
experience of our teen-age years. question among those planning
We learned how to win, and we the reunion remains what to call
grew up fast. In many ways, we their former teacher. A few of
didn't have a childhood because the former teens are now teach-
we were so busy with adult ac- ers and say they went into the
profession because Mr. Good-
One year, the young Democrats man inspired them.
protested a "no Jews and no
"I still call him Mr. Good-
blacks" policy at a privately run man," Ms. Konstant said. "At
swimming pool open to the pub- our first meeting, it felt like we
lic at Eight Mile and Greenfield. were back in high school — five
Today, the now-grown teen Dems students, all over 50, getting an
are still proud to say their actions assignment from our teacher for
led to the facility's closure.
the next meeting."
But socializing was also im-
Reminiscing took up most of
portant. Members met every last week's meeting.
Friday night for barbecues and
Members remember the ex-
other events that were only citement of spending an election
night together. Memories of
The candidates were eager to handing out literature and
talk directly to the young De- knocking on doors and asking
mocrats and often said they residents to put up lawn signs
found teen-age enthusiasm re- are still vivid. The election-day
weather didn't matter much,
The size of the group, made
GROWING page 10
up mostly of Jews, varied from