For Leisure World’s Phyllis Solomon, politics is a verb

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Phyllis Solomon with a flag of the world. Photo by Charles M. Kelly

Political activism comes naturally to Phyllis Solomon. She was one of the demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 in Chicago. Fortunately for Solomon, she left before violence erupted. Solomon said the police rioted. (Polls at the time showed the majority of Americans thought the demonstrators were in the wrong.)

She’s had many interests in her 91 years, but politics have always been her passion.

“That’s the focus of my life,” said Solomon, a resident of Mutual 7 in Seal Beach Leisure World. Her home reflects that focus. A flag of the world flies outside her residence, partially blocking the view of a sign that demands the U.S. pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq. (Solomon called it a UN flag, but it doesn’t bear the official symbol of the United Nations.)

Many of the books in her library, which occupies one wall of her living room, deal specifically with the Iraq war. Photos of demonstrations stand on top of her piano.

The one concession to humor can be found on her patio, where a pair of skeletons “high-five” one another.

Her political interests aren’t limited to war or foreign policy. Solomon has lived in two different Leisure World communities, Seal Beach Leisure World and the community now known as Laguna Woods. She has been active in both communities.

These days, Solomon is in charge of the monthly picketing against the Presidents Council. Solomon and her allies believe the council of Leisure World Mutual presidents ought to meet in public. For the present, a majority of the Presidents Council disagrees.

Solomon doesn’t know why political activism is so important to her.

Perhaps genetics influenced her—her parents were politically active.

Perhaps geography influenced her—she was born in Chicago, Ill., on Dec. 19, 1918. Al Capone was a big influence on Chicago politics when she was a child.

“He was out of the picture when I was starting to grow up,” Solomon said.

Perhaps the reasons for her activism don’t matter. Solomon is politically active.

She has opposed every U.S. war since World War II—Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador and (now) Afghanistan and Iraq. A “sort of Democrat,” Solomon is disappointed in President Barack Obama even though she knew he planned to expand the war in Afghanistan.

The Vietnam War loomed large after Solomon married Sidney Solomon and had babies.

Solomon had four children who are all still alive. Those children went on to give Solomon six grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Solomon’s mother had three children, but one of them died too young. Phyllis Solomon’s older sister died when Phyllis was about six months old, a victim of the flu epidemic of 1919.

The Great Flu killed twice as many people as the Great War—World War I.

During the interview, Solomon stopped to consult her journals—a multi-volume account of her life as she lived it—in an attempt to provide precise information.

“Someday, I’m going to read my journals,” she said.

The Solomons, husband Sidney and wife Phyllis, moved to California in 1971. Like Phyllis, Sid was interested in politics. He helped found Long Beach Area Citizens Involved. Solomon pronounced the initials of the liberal organization “La-bachee.”

The group even had its own newspaper, the Citizen News. Sid also helped to organize a civilian review board to monitor the Long Beach Police Department.

Phyllis Solomon was working at the Long Beach Veteran’s Administration Hospital at the time.

In the 1980s, Phyllis Solomon was protesting Reagan Administration policies in South America. She was part of a group of demonstrators that occupied Rep. Dan Lungren’s office—at least, she thinks it was Lungren’s office—and refused to leave.

She and the others were arrested for trespassing. Phyllis Solomon spent the night in jail.

By now you may have noticed a pattern.

On June 24, 1990, her husband died.

Phyllis Solomon moved into Leisure World and stayed about eight years. Solomon wasn’t politically active during those eight years. She belonged to some Leisure World organizations, including the Unitarian Fellowship, but she wasn’t involved much in politics any more.

Then she moved to what is now Laguna Woods, where her brother lived.

After living in Seal Beach Leisure World, where recycling is taken for granted, Solomon was shocked to find that the other Leisure World didn’t have recycling. Solomon tried to establish a recycling program.

She failed, though she said the movement was reactivated after she moved back to Seal Beach.

The credit (or blame) for Solomon’s return to Seal Beach can be laid at the doorstep of the Sun Newspapers. Someone apparently sent her a copy of the Sun, or she saw a copy while visiting family in the area, and read an article about a demonstration against the Iraq war in the paper.

Solomon decided to move back to Seal Beach.

Since her return, she has become a member of Concerned Shareholders of Leisure World and used to belong to We the People of Leisure World, two groups that have called for more openness on the part of the Golden Rain Foundation and the individual mutual boards that run the retirement community.

Right now, Solomon is focused on getting the Presidents Council to open its meetings to the public. She wants to know why the meetings are held in “secret.” Solomon and the other council critics can only guess.

“They seem to want to put us out of the protection of the Davis-Stirling Act,” she said.

Solomon doesn’t believe the Presidents Council is a powerless discussion group.

Solomon said some people think another legal battle with Leisure World might be necessary to establish that the mutual boards—and the Presidents Council—also fall under the jurisdiction of Davis-Stirling.

Solomon said she hopes that won’t be necessary.

She believes the demonstrations will work. She said they definitely put pressure on the council.

Despite the fact she hasn’t won this fight, yet, she is content. “I’m glad to be old,” she said. “I seem to be more at peace with myself.”

“I’m happier than I’ve ever been,” she said.

For Leisure World’s Phyllis Solomon, politics is a verb