Interview with Dan Isaacson, EFC alum 50NY, May 2015

Dan Isaacson

Dan Isaacson

Dan Isaacson, 50NY, lives in Boca Raton, Florida with his wife Marie. Between the two of them, they have four grown children. They traveled all around the country in a motor home for 15 years before deciding to settle in Boca Raton where his mother’s first cousin lived.

We spoke with Dan about his Encampment experience (see below) and his current passion – voter education and voting rights.  Dan, your work dovetails perfectly with part of the curriculum this summer at the Encampment – the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Tell us a bit about how you became interested in this area. I started working as precinct captain in 2007 for the Democratic Party of Palm Beach County.  I saw that they were doing what I call “retail politics” – one-on-one contact with hundreds of people and not reaching hundreds of thousands of people.  People were not voting. They saw no difference between the parties and thought it didn’t make a difference if they voted or not. They didn’t know what was going on and didn’t care.

I thought to myself, I have to do some kind of education. I started a newsletter on my own and sent it around by mail. That turned out to be too expensive and I had no way of knowing how well we were doing. The Demo Party put in on their website and we sent to their mailing list. I had to do something to get it out further because there were not enough people to do data analysis. Eventually, I sent to Democrats and Independents through email or mailbox so that everybody in the precinct got a copy every month (1200 people). In the 2014 primary election, out of the 842 precincts in Palm Beach County, voter participation in this precinct was 71% higher than the average of other 841 precincts. I am now seeking foundation funding and more buy-in from the Democratic Party. I am amassing an email and mail list for all of Palm Beach County to do solicitation. I also attend meetings for the Voter Rights Coalition group here and I am on the board of the Palm Beach County League of Women Voters.

It’s such a turn on! Now I know what turns on sculptors, painters, etc. They spend every waking moment doing their craft. Working with the Enlightened Voter (www.votereducation.net), I have my eyes on everything that is happening, all the daily and weekly news articles. I want to find out more and write intelligently. Last weekend I attended a convergence of young people nationwide concerned with voting rights and inequities (National Prison Divestment Convergence). So many people of color are disenfranchised from voting, having a decent job, etc. Our governor Rick Scott won by very few percentage points. My feeling is that if more people were reading the newsletter he would not be governor. Voter education is effective and important.

Dan, let’s go back to your Encampment experience.

What motivated you to go to the Encampment?

I was a student at Fieldston Ethical Culture School where EFC was being held. My father was on the Board and our family was close friends with Algernon Black. Al’s son David was a classmate.  I had visited EFC in previous summers and wanted to go. In 1950, between high school graduation and college I had the chance to go.

When you arrived, what was your first impression of the Encampment?

I had taken many ethics classes at school from Al Black, so I knew what to expect. Of course, the place was like home as I went to school there. I found the campers interesting and diverse–from all over the country.

What was your initial impression of the offerings at the Encampment?

Very impressive and exciting. The knowledge of the staff was impressive and welcome.

 What field trips do you remember?

The most memorable trip was to Hyde Park for a picnic lunch with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Did you find you had a lot in common with most of the Encampers?

What all of us had in common was a desire to understand others and to help others.

What were some of your favorite leisure time activities?

Lots of music, performances, we had performers such as Woody Guthrie come to perform for us. We had outside politicians and educators also come to speak.

What did you learn at the Encampment?

I learned a lot about the lives of my fellow campers, about the difficulties minorities faced.

 How has the Encampment influenced your life?

It gave me a view of what public service is like. 60 years later, that interest led me to being extremely active in politics in southern Florida. I publish a monthly voter education newsletter, The Enlightened Voter, which has received many accolades and a large readership in Palm Beach County. www.votereducation.net

 

Isaacson, Dan advertisement 1950

What is your favorite memory or story from the Encampment?

Woody Guthrie came to perform for us. As the resident folk singer, I was asked to greet him and find out what he needed. He told me he wanted a place to warm up so I took him to a school classroom. He struck several chords and pronounced the room too dead. He asked me to take him to the boy’s bathroom where he liked the acoustics and warmed up for his performance there.

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