Opinion: Has it really been 50 years?

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By Denny Freidenrich

Back in 1972, Laguna’s voters approved a citywide height limitation on development. It also was the year the nonprofit Orange County Coastkeeper was founded, and I left town to begin working as a congressional staff assistant on Capitol Hill.  (Yes, the same Capitol Hill where the Jan. 6 insurrection took place last year.) Washington, D.C., is where I learned to write.

It’s hard for me to believe, but 50 years ago this month, The Washington Post ran my first-ever letter to the editor. It was my response to a Civil Rights Commission report on busing.  Today, that number now exceeds 1,600 letters and commentaries published in newspapers and magazines coast to coast—not to mention more than 1,000 Facebook and Twitter comments, plus posts on my FreidomReport blog.

Over the decades, I have commented on every president beginning with Richard Nixon and virtually every war starting with Vietnam. While I often write about national matters, I still comment about local issues like the dangers of offshore oil drilling or the impact COVID-19 has had here in Orange County. I also enjoy writing about Laguna neighbors I admire who make a difference in people’s lives.

Not surprisingly, many people in town think I simply write letters to the editor. What they don’t know is long before Mark Christy turned The Ranch into the gem that it is today, former Mayor Roy Holm appointed me to the city’s golf committee in 1974, or that, as a member of the Laguna Beach Citizens Alliance, I interviewed on cable television all the candidates for city council in 1978. Additionally, I was retained to represent Laguna and three other beach cities in the 1985 “No on Offshore Oil Drilling” fight.

Years later, I raised over $100,000 for Laguna Art Museum in 2001 by creating the personalized lobby tiles you’ll find near the entrance to the museum. I also dreamed up the first public event to help the victims of the devastating 2005 Bluebird Canyon landslide and brainstormed Laguna’s black tie gala honoring Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.

Thanks to the Independent’s recent coverage, people now know I have rewritten the lyrics to Louise Shropshire’s civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” Today, “Ukraine Shall Overcome” honors Ukrainians everywhere and their nation’s heroic fight for freedom.

So, how do I sum up my 50-year writing career? First, I still construct letters and opinion pieces the way I was taught on Capitol Hill; second, I don’t aspire to write the great American novel; and third, I am very happy in my lane. It really is where I belong.

This must be true, since The New York Times invited me to attend a special reception for its “regular contributors” prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. For a guy who barely passed English 101 at USC, this was a thrill. My hope is, if I keep writing, I’ll get invited back to New York another time.

Denny lives in Laguna Beach and is an occasional guest opinion contributor to the Independent.

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