SHAWNEE, Kan. - A few years ago, on a liberal blog that I frequented at the time, I met an interesting fellow from Kansas. He told me about a Kansas blog for progressives that he had started and suggested that I check it out. At the time I remember thinking, "Wow! A progressive blog in Kansas? That's great news!"
The fellow's nom de plume was Iggy Donnelly. I was intrigued by the name alone. So I checked out the blog, Prairie Populists and Progressives and found both a home on the web, and friends. Iggy and most of the other bloggers on PP&P hail from the Wichita area. To find progressives living in Wichita was amazing. If I felt like a Martian living on Pluto, imagine how they must feel, I thought.
As a transplant from the east coast, I had never thought of Kansas as my home. Home had always been back east in Philadelphia, although it had been decades since I lived there. I had never felt a sense of belonging in Kansas, mainly because of the prevailing political and religious leanings.
I am a confirmed liberal who grew up believing that religious beliefs should be kept to oneself. And I have never been able to shake the feeling that if some of the people around here would just get out of Kansas for a few years, they might see things differently where politics are concerned. Being a Kansan had seemed like a constant source of embarrassment. Talking to Iggy, blogging on PP&P, I found some people who welcomed my different ideas and have been willing to put up with my passionate political rants. I found the sense of belonging that had been absent. I finally felt comfortable calling myself a Kansan.
Iggy Donnelly was the gateway. He welcomed my comments on PP&P and we were frequently in complete agreement. In the rare instance we did disagree, it was always with mutual respect and civility. In PP&P, Iggy created a place where progressives can participate in civil discourse on the topics of the day or the topics of their choosing. They share music, experiences, information about events and happenings in their lives and a lively exchange of ideas. It's an e-home for Kansans displaced by their religious or political leanings.
Sadly, Iggy passed away on May 2 of this year. To my further dismay, I did not find out about it until weeks afterward. It was not until I found out that Iggy had passed away that I really got to know him. The more I came to know, the more I understood the strong connection that I felt to him.
His name was Steven Davis and he was 56 years old at the time of his death. According to his website, he "borrowed his nickname from Ignatius Donnelly, a prairie populist who started the People's Party in 1892... a senator from Minnesota."
He went on to explain, "The people in the Populist party were... for the common man. In 1892, Ignatius Donnelly said, 'The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes, unprecedented in the history of the world, while their possessors despise the republic and endanger liberty.'"
Quoting from the People's Party; here was a man after my own heart! It takes a brave person to bring up the People's Party in these times. However, I never read that quote until after he passed from this world. It was probably about a year before Iggy found me on Bob Cesca's site that I discovered that Kansas was once the home of the one and only socialist college in the United States of America. The People's Party was once a strong, viable party in certain counties of this state. Who knew? Steven Davis did, though we never talked about it. He obviously felt the same respect for and kinship with the populist movement of the early twentieth century that I did.
It was also after Steven passed away that I found out that he was an avid reader who was known as a generous lender of books. He worked in the field of mental health and strived to find treatment answers for the severely mentally ill. He had an interest and education in and was an occasional adjunct professor of psychology. I continue to be amazed at things we had in common that we never talked about. Yet, somehow the connection was there unspoken.
These are the things I knew about Iggy Donnelly: He loved music, held a great respect for musicians and played the guitar. He was kind-hearted and generous. He was frustrated by the snarky, attack-style political discourse he found on the Wichita Eagle blog site and sought a more constructive and civil form of discourse on his blog site. He was a defender of the weak against the strong. He was a proponent of marriage equality and other civil rights. He was willing to stand up for the things that he believed in and, from my point of view, it seemed to me that he felt it a moral imperative to do so.
Though I never played the guitar and am not as generous with my library as he was, we had many things in common. Aside from our similar political beliefs, I have always been interested in psychology and mental illness, especially schizophrenia. There was a time in my life when I thought I might go to college to study the subject. In my youth, I often pictured myself on a college campus as a professor (usually of English or literature).
In some ways, Steven was the person I would have been had my life taken a different path.
When he passed away, it took me awhile to understand why I was so pained by the passing of someone that, in all reality, I barely knew. I felt a connection that I could not explain until, through the words and descriptions of the man himself and his friends that knew him; I understood the unspoken common bonds we shared.
I would have liked to have known Steven Davis. But I will hold the memory of Iggy Donnelly close to my heart for the rest of my days.