Stop Whining and Start Participating


“But if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in heels.”

~ Ann Richards at the 1988 Democratic National Convention

Plenty of humorous quotes and quips have been attributed to the late Ann Richards. The feisty former Governor of Texas possessed a larger-than-life persona and a wicked wit. Her 1988 Democratic National Convention keynote speech introduced her to America and launched her political career on a trajectory toward becoming the 45th governor of Texas, the first woman to lead the state.

I sat in the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center last Thursday evening watching ANN, a solo show written and performed by actress Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men). Ms. Taylor recounted tales of Richard’s life: her childhood, marriage and family life, battle with alcoholism, involvement in politics working behind the scenes at first then daring to jump into the political arena herself, time as governor, and the post-gubernatorial years. Taylor beautifully and effortlessly embodied the over-the-top, bigger-than-life Richards in every aspect from her appearance to her Texas drawl and mannerisms. At times I almost forgot it was Holland Taylor on the stage.

“Stop whining and start participating!” This was one of the directives that Ms. Taylor’s Ann gave near the end of the performance. Another memorable line from the show was: “Life is not fair. I learned that when I was eleven years old. Life is not fair, but government should be.” These two quotes resonated with me the most.

Richards’ life was one well-lived, though not void of heartache. She had a loving, supportive father, who from the start told her she was smart and could be anything she wanted. Her mother, on the other hand, was not as supportive and rather distant. Their relationship is revealed in Ann’s retelling of the time that a local TV station held a special screening of the above-mentioned keynote speech from the Democratic National Convention. Her mother accompanied her to the station, and instead of being proud of Ann’s achievement, her mother was most excited that she “got to meet the weather man!”  Though this was told with humor and gusto, the sting and hurt of her mother’s comment was quite obvious.

Richards was first elected to a county commissioner seat in 1976. Her husband had declined to run so friends encouraged her to do it. She went on to become Texas State Treasurer from 1983 – 1991, then governor from January 15, 1991 – January 15, 1995. During her one term in office, Governor Richards championed women’s rights, reformed the Texas prison system, and revived the state economy.

Ms. Taylor closed the show with Ann speaking from the grave about her cancer diagnosis and treatment then about her funeral and memorial. She also gives some parting advice, telling the audience (and I’m paraphrasing): “They [legislators] are not the government. We are the government. We can fire them. If you are not voting, you are letting others make decisions for you.”

The U.S. is facing some serious challenges. Challenges our current leaders seem unable to tackle for a variety of reasons—hyper-partisanship, the influence of special interest money and lobbyists, no worries about getting re-elected due to gerrymandered congressional districts, and a total disconnect between Washington and the people they represent. When we are not involved, we are allowing others to make decisions for us that affect our lives—and in many instances not to our benefit.

I left the performance inspired on many levels, the biggest ones to write and produce my own one-woman show and to get more deeply involved in politics—to do more than blog about issues, pen letters to my senators and congressman, sign petitions, and vote. Granted that is more than many Americans do, but there is always more to do. All of us can be more involved, especially those who don’t vote.

It bears repeating: “Stop whining and start participating.” Interestingly, President Obama told the Ohio State class of 2013 on Sunday afternoon, “I ask you to participate and persevere.” I sense a theme…

ANN on Broadway

Cross-posted at The Feisty Liberal  

Updated May 8 – video clips added


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