Justice O’Connor Comes to Wrigley Field

As Justice Sandra Day O’Conner walked out on to the green grass of Wrigley Field in Chicago on a cool May night and handed baseballs to the circle of umpires, she told them to be fair.

And coming from her. I wanted to be fair too.

I once heard another leader explain what leadership looks like by saying, “Want to know if you’re a leader? Turn around and see if anyone is following.”

It’s the rare leader who just by their presence can blend charisma with substance. Make you want to raise your hand and shout out, “Wait! Wherever you’re going, I want to go there too!” Justice O’Conner’s presence, rippling out through the crowded stadium and then beamed out to the television audience radiated that kind of presence.

So when she announced her mission, of promoting http://www.ourcourts.org — a way to re-energize and engage middle school children with civics—anyone with a pulse would have paid attention. Paid attention and then as she simply and very directly spoke, began to care.

She began: Middle school kids are curious. They’re full of energy. They are just on their way. And the way we get them interested is by doing what they like to do—playing games! The games on the site, with titles like: “Argument Wars” or “Supreme Decision” are fun. The kids like them!

Sitting with the TV announcers, she looked out over the brilliantly lit diamond and stadium and said, “The energy here! It’s a beautiful night. The stands are full and everyone is having fun.” Everyone cares!

It’s a lot like our mission.

We’re going to take a whole generation of kids and make sure they care about civics again.

That was the mission. To once again care about what it means to be a citizen. Not to preach, not to take a side, to change teaching strategies, to intimidate, spread fear and divisiveness to such an extent that kids, or even some of us adults, simply stop listening.

The best leaders know what should be put off stage, ready to help, but out of the spotlight. Justice O’Conner knew that teachers need lesson plans, so there are lesson plans on the site. She knew that ineffective teaching was one of the reasons civics education is disappearing across the country. She knew all the reasons why we should teach civics.

But all of that was off to the side. Pushed off stage. Because she knew that up front in the spotlight; kids, and even some of us adults, are easily bored. Lots of noise and clutter in our lives to cut through. And boredom. So we end up not caring.

She’s not the only one that cares. For 10 years, the “Mikva Challenge,” an organization dreamed by two other icons of leadership, Judge Abner Mikva and his wife Zoe, have worked for the same mission. Not just to improve civics education, get better teaching, more funding, all those essential building blocks, but to zero in on the true, passionate beating heart of the mission, which is to honestly care about what it means to be a citizen.

So this week, there sat Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, illuminated by the television lights, chatting with the announcers high above Wrigley Field, her brilliant white hair set off against the Chicago night. Already having been a Justice of the Supreme Court. At age 80—setting out to change an entire generation. With many of us believing she could.

Sitting there, so far from her own Arizona skies, lyrics from the great songwriter John Hiatt came to mind,

I’ve been sleeping for some hours
Just woke up and you were there
Like the morning, like the flowers
Sunlight whispering in my ears
Red tail hawk shooting down the canyon
Put me on that wind he rides.
I will be your true companion
When we reach the other side.
I will try, I will stumble
But I will fly, he told me so
Proud and high, or low and humble
Many miles before I go.

And when I heard the lyric, prompted by Justice O’Connor speaking, I knew she’d succeed.

And the next generation would have leaders too.

3 Responses to “Justice O’Connor Comes to Wrigley Field”

  1. Paul Haider Says:

    Roger, you’ve reminded me that I need to buy a new copy of that wonderful John Hiatt album from 2000 which closes with “Before I Go.” When it comes to conservative Supreme Court justices, is it too late to replace Clarence “Uncle Tom” Thomas and John “Born Again” Roberts with Sandra Day O’Conner? She was one of Reagan’s better decisions, especially when compared with the choices of George Bush, Sr. and George Bush, Jr. (thankfully, he did not have a son as well!).
    “Don’t follow leaders and watch them parking meters-” Bob Dylan, 1965

  2. Dale Says:

    Just read the Times article on Texas’s textbook standards before reading this. What a contrasting vision of what civics is . . . . yeesh.

  3. Paulhaider74 Says:

    I remember Ronald Raygun throwing out the first pitch to a Cubs game in September of 1988 during a time when he was fading away at the end of his second term. Seeing Sandra Day O’Connor, Raygun’s apointee to the Supreme Court, in a Cubs jacket only confirms my belief that the Cubs curse has as much to do with the fans as it does with the players, managers, and owners. I can only thank the good lord, Elvis, that I am a Springsteen fan, first and foremost.
    Paul Haider, Chicago

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