By Bette McDevitt
(Photo caption: Bill Wegener. Photo credit: Bette McDevitt)
One day, thirty years ago, Mel Madden, a member of the Merton Center, now deceased, brought his out-of-town friend to have a look around the Center. “See, Charley,” he said, “There’s something for everyone here. “
Something for everyone…it stayed with me. This month, part of a random series, I spent some time getting to know Bill Wegener, and find out what brings him to the Center.
Bill is a retired postman, who lives in Carnegie, feeds the birds, has a few dogs, listens to avant-garde classical music, goes on long bicycle trips, doesn’t use the internet, and gives away half or more of his money to progressive organizations. He had encountered Joyce Rothermel, chair of our membership committee, a few times, and found the Merton Center a good fit for his interests.
Over lunch at Max’s on the North Side, Bill told me about his “turn to the left.” It’s quite a story. “You’re looking at a former lifetime member of the NRA. I’m an outdoors person, but I had a serious falling out with the NRA over the issue of using assault weapons to kill deer. I let them know how I felt about that, and it was the end of my association with them.”
The change in attitude was a thoughtful one.”I was originally a conservative, influenced by a college roommate, at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) in the early sixties. We are still very good friends.Then, influenced by a lady friend, with whom I was one on one, I started seeing the light. I still say this about the right; if it was an ideal world, the right philosophy is not a bad thing, but we don’t live in an ideal world, an egalitarian society, so we have to bear left, in order to be realistic. My conservative friend told me that In order for the government to do anything for the people, they have to take it from you first. The more I thought about it, the more I turned to the left.This is the furthest we could be from an egalitarian society. If it were, everyone would be starting on the same rung of the ladder. Look at the blacks in the country; they didn’t start on the same rung. They’re hurting from the word go.”
Convinced that education is a way to get up a few rungs, Bill is a supporter of college funds for Native American young people, part of the more than 300 nonprofit donations on his last year’s tax return. Bill is not boastful about his philanthropy; the information only came out because I asked questions. “I don’t spend a lot of money,” he said. “I can live frugally. My car is 8 years old. “
Although he doesn’t use the Internet, he’s on top of things through the many publications to which he subscribes. “ I get two to three inches of mail per day. Unfortunately, they’re cutting down trees for me. I belong to about 30 environmental organizations. Some of them are saving the world.”
His favorite publications are The NewPeople and The Progressive Populist. “You’ve got to read that! It’s a bear to handle, big pages, but Jim Hightower is in there all the time.” He also reads The Nation. “It’s easier to handle.” And he listens to the radio: Democracy Now on WRCT. “I listen to David Pakman, on the radio before Amy Goodman, and after Amy, Law and Disorder.”
Among his heroes are Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader. ”Chomsky doesn’t preach. I’m guilty of hammering at people, and Nader, he’s the best thing that ever happened to this country!”
“I don’t do enough activist stuff though,” Bill admits. “I was at the Women’s March in Pittsburgh. Even the right sees this humongous crowd of people, asking for change, which we didn’t get with Obama, who was a corporate Democrat; half of his administration were big bankers. That’s the reason we didn’t get the change we thought we were going to get. He paid mind to the military industrial complex, with the war effort. With Trump, people are getting the opposite of what they expected.”
As we left Max’s, Bill said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the right is a ‘me first’ society. One of the big things is you have to care. If you don’t, you might as well get the hell out.” Bill cares a lot and is in for the long haul. We can all be ambassadors for the Center, a community of people who care.
Bette McDevitt is a member of the Editorial Collective and the Raging Grannies.