Columnist Andrea Ayvazian: An ode to decency — and democracy

  • Jo Comerford of Northampton, the Democratic nominee for the Hampshire, Franklin & Worcester State Senate seat, speaks during a joint town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, and Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, at First Churches of Northampton on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. STAFF PHOTO/Kevin Gutting

For the Gazette
Published: 9/17/2018 8:11:34 AM

My father was born in Turkey during the genocide of the Armenian people and escaped, with his parents and brother, fleeing to America where they settled in New York. He became a physician and a writer and was careful and precise with his words. When my father referred to someone he admired who had integrity, he would simply say that person was “decent.”

I was an effusive child. When my father called someone we liked and respected “decent,” I found that word to be too flat and lukewarm. I wanted my father to be more flowery, to pile on the adjectives. But he stuck with “decent,” and for my father that was high praise. Now that I’m older, I have come to understand the power and depth of decency, and I agree with my father: calling someone decent is high praise.

We’ve just had an election that brought an enormous nonviolent army of volunteers into the streets and a record numbers of voters to the polls. The impact was stunning. The door-knocking, phone-calling, lawn signs, house parties, strategy meetings and debates pulled in not only the folks who are always active and who always vote, but also people who were energized by this election and stepped out of their comfort zone to be involved.

The race for the state Senate seat to replace Stan Rosenberg was of particular interest to me, and it was the race in which I was most active. Four candidates campaigned for the seat, and three were write-ins. What an extraordinary thing! Now that the election has passed, and I have caught my breath and stashed our lawn sign in the shed, I am reflecting on the four individuals who put themselves forward and worked tirelessly campaigning for the state Senate seat: Chelsea Kline, Ryan O’Donnell, Steve Connor, and Jo Comerford.

I am aware that this community is lucky and blessed to have had four individuals who are all decent, in the best sense of that word, and who gave their hearts campaigning for the open seat. I think that the candidates’ decency energized an electorate starved for models of elected officials who display integrity, trustworthiness and honesty.

Like moths to the flame, voters were drawn to the state Senate race because we have been so appalled by the lying, scandals, corruption and immorality we have seen in our President and so many of those in his inner circle. We were all desperate for hope and examples of common decency — and so we flocked to the state Senate race knocking on doors in 93-degree heat, calling voters who never answer their phones, driving around to pound signs into lawns, and writing checks over and over again. Chelsea Kline, Ryan O’Donnell, Steve Connor, and Jo Comerford, we thank you. You gave us hope because you are decent, and you spoke to us, for us, and with us with kindness, vision, wisdom and compassion.

I worked on Jo’s campaign. And I had the great honor of driving candidate Jo around the district on election day. Starting when the polls opened in the morning and ending when the polls closed in the evening, Jo and I drove from town to town, meeting and thanking poll watchers, sign holders and voters. I was able to observe, firsthand, the reaction Jo elicited from folks in and around polling places. When Jo got out of the car —whether it was in Greenfield, Deerfield, Pelham or South Hadley — people would cheer and call out one thing consistently: “Thank you, Jo!” 

And I want to reiterate: Thank you, Jo. Thank you for your work your entire adult life that prepared you for this election and this elected office — work that has focused on fairness, inclusion, strengthening democracy, empowering those on the margins of power, combating racism, confronting economic inequality, and promoting public education and earth stewardship. 

Thank you, Jo, for being a principled person committed to the common good, someone who has, over decades, found ways to consistently wed your beliefs with your behaviors. Thank you, Jo, for being bold, relentlessly hopeful and indefatigable. Thank you for your powerful and sensitive leadership, for devoting your life to activism and service, and for jumping into the race with the small window of only 100 days to galvanize voters to write your somewhat-difficult name on the proper line on the ballot.

After the November election when Jo becomes our state Senator, we will send a woman to Beacon Hill who will be the champion for all people. Progressive, responsive, thoughtful and politically savvy, Jo will hear us, work with us, and create positive change on our behalf. Supported by her wife, Ann, and their now campaign-seasoned children Chloe and Isaiah, Jo will be carried to Boston on the wave of over 14,000 write-in votes that reflect a strong affirmation: We believe in you, Jo, we are counting on you, and we are with you.

My father was a well-informed, politically astute man and a proud Democrat. He had strong opinions about elected officials, never missed voting in an election, and contributed generously to the candidates he supported. My dad lived in Northampton for many years; he passed on a few years back.

When I stood cheering at Union Station on election day as the numbers rolled in and the crowd realized that Jo had won, I thought of my father. My dad knew and admired Jo. I was aware of how happy he would be with the news of her victory. As I walked to my car well past midnight, I could hear my father’s voice in my head: Jo is decent. And he is right.

The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian, of Northampton, is part of the ministerial team of the Alden Baptist Church in Springfield. She is the founder and director of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership, which offers free movement-building classes from Greenfield to Springfield. She writes a monthly column on the intersection of faith, culture and politics, and can be reached at



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