Take A Stand

Teachings from Zolton Ferency

You either have plenty of gray hair or are a Michigan political junkie if you know the name Zolton Ferency.  Fortunately for me, I’m both.  I had the great fortune of getting to know Zolton even though he died in 1993.

Depending on your views, Zolton was either your champion or a devastating stain on the political process.  For me, I found that I voted for Zolton nearly every time I could.  He earned my vote even though I probably agreed with his politics maybe ten-percent of the time.

A campaign shirt supporting Zolton Ferency

Zolton ran for Michigan governor five times between 1966 and 1982.  At other times he ran for the state Supreme Court and other elected positions.   At one time he was head of the state Democratic Party and in that position came out against the election of Lyndon Johnson.  He did so because he didn’t like the candidate’s position on the Vietnam War.   It was his LBJ opposition that ostracized Ferency from the Democratic Party.  He was shunned so much that at one point he ran under the Human Rights Party. He really had no chance of winning most of those contests he entered, but he continued to put his hat in the ring.

As a young reporter I vividly remember asking Zolton, “Why do you continue to run for office when you know you have no chance of winning?”  His honest response still echoes with me to this day. “I run because I raise issues that need to be discussed,” he said.  And Zolton was a champion of many causes.  At the time of his death his biggest cause was the creation of a Unicameral (one Chamber) Legislature.  He felt it would be most representative of the state’s population.  It was that answer to my question that made me realize there are many good people involved in government.  These are people who believe in something.  These are people who are fearless in taking a stance.  We don’t always have to agree with them, but we should listen to them and respect them for their character.

It’s easy to lambast our political leaders and harshly attack their character. But those people who fearlessly take a stance still serve on the national, state and local stages. I could easily list some of them now, but don’t because I know each of those people would be fiercely attacked by those who disagree with them.

Today we have large numbers of people taking to the streets to make their beliefs public: Black Lives Matter, gay rights, reopen the state’s businesses, end police brutality, support the second amendment – and the list goes on.

Black Lives Matter protest in Traverse City

Business owners and businesses traditionally take a quiet stand when it comes to community-shifting ideals.  They fear alienating their clients or potential clients. Many are dragged into the public spotlight when their support for a cause is reluctantly made public on social media.  A rare few use their business as a megaphone that reflects their personal beliefs.

For me, I have lived my life as a moderate – in the middle.  It may be a result of too many years working as a reporter and attempting to be open to all viewpoints.  I’ve walked in only two protests.  One was in Detroit to protest the jailing of a colleague that was arrested for not revealing his sources on a story.  The second was in support of friends in the LGBTQ community.  On social media I bite my fingertips and veer away from taking political stances.  I have two exceptions: 1) Support journalists when they face the “Fake News” attacks. 2) Oppose national legislative term limits. I oppose this second one based on the belief that we already have term limits – it’s called an election. If we choose not to use it that becomes our right and responsibility.

Traverse City Pride March in 2019. Photo credit: Allen-Kent Photography

Despite my life in the middle, I still really respect those who have the courage to shake up the status quo.  There are still politicians and community leaders dedicated to bringing up issues that need to be talked about.  I don’t support free college for everyone, but Bernie Sanders felt we needed to have a public discussion about the issue.  I’m really glad we’ve talked about it.  We have community leaders who still talk about civil rights, women’s rights, abortion rights, gun rights.  These are not easy issues to discuss, but we need to talk about them openly and freely.

Don’t shut out the voices in opposition to your perspective.  Listen to them.  Argue with them.  Respect them.  When that happens then I know that Zolton Ferency is still alive and well.  When that happens, it’s a good thing for our democracy.

2019 Pride March. Photo credit: Allen-Kent Photography

  • Don Stypula

    What a great walk down memory lane.! This is a terrific look at a quintessential philosophical and issues-based politician and one of the most-fascinating figures in Michigan political history. Great read!

    1. mike

      Thanks Don. I know you had the opportunity to watch Zolton in action too. I appreciate your comments.

  • Brian VanOchten

    We are part of a rare breed — we’re professional listeners. As a former reporter myself, I always enjoyed meeting and interaction with all different kinds of people. It’s such a big world out there if you’ll explore it. The problem, as I see it, is an increasingly self-isolating society living in fear of what the Trumps tell them to fear. If everyone would just step outside their own personal bubble and LISTEN to all of these difference perspectives available to them, we’d have a much different outlook as a human race.

    1. mike

      Thanks for your thoughts Brian. Spend a little time listening and you never know – you may learn something.

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