MARYSVILLE – On the eve of a historic election, if Hillary Clinton is the first woman to become president, she can thank longtime democrats like Raymond Miller.
He was a national delegate for her and prior to that President Obama and Al Gore.
Miller, 66, is such a devoted party leader that he recently received the Henry M. Jackson National Service Award from the Snohomish County Democratic Party.
For years he has been a delegate at precinct, county, state and national conventions. He has worked on numerous campaigns, going door to door to try to secure votes for others.
Only in recent years has he started running for office himself. He won election to the county Charter Review Commission. He had planned to run for the state representative 38th District seat now held by June Robinson but had to “drop out when he got sick.”
Miller has been chairman of both the 38th and 10th district Democrats. He’s also been chairman of the county and state NAACP political action committees.
In the future, a run for county or city council would not be out of the question.
“I’ll look where I’m needed,” he said. “What’s best for the community.”
Miller said he doesn’t like when candidates run unopposed. “They need a challenge to keep them on their toes.”
One of Miller’s biggest supporters is his wife, Jennifer, whom he met in 2009. She grew up in South Bend, Ind., in a family that preached equality. She said she quickly found out that Miller is involved in a lot of things when one of his friends told her, “better put on your tennis shoes.”
Civil rights supporter
Practically his entire life, Miller has fought for equality and justice. His parents and grandparents were involved in civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. He remembers marchers being attacked with water hoses and by dogs.
“It was crazy wrong,” he said.
He recalled when his grandpa voted for the first time in 1965. Prior to that, blacks weren’t allowed to vote, and his grandpa was worried about violence breaking out.
“The (Civil Rights) movement has made great progress, but we’re not done,” Miller said, adding there are still gaps in education, employment and economics.
There have been some steps backward, however. A part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was removed a few years ago, with backers saying it was no longer needed. Miller disagreed.
There’s a segment of society that’s “still working to take the guts out of it,” Miller said of the act.
Voter identification laws also are changing in some states, making it harder for some blacks to vote because they can’t afford ID.
“Many states are voting for suppression laws,” he said.
Miller said while he doesn’t agree with everything “Black Lives Matter” has done, he does see the need for it. He said they are “young and misguided, but they have made us have a conversation.”
He said disproportionately too many blacks are being killed by police.
Miller said it reminds him of when he was young and thought about joining the Black Panthers. He decided not to because they walked around with guns, but they did some good things in their communities, such as food and education programs.
Advocate for veterans
Along with politics, Miller has spent his life helping veterans receive benefits from the Department of Veteran Affairs. “I helped them overcome the bureaucracy of government,” he said.
He still helps veterans through a private organization, as president and founder of Vets Place Northwest-Welcome Home.
Miller personally knows what it is like to be a distressed veteran.
In 1972, while on an Air Force plane from Germany to Spain, they crash-landed after two of the four engines caught fire and the landing gear wouldn’t drop.
“It was a scary night,” he said, adding it was traumatic having to wait for the airport to put foam down where they were going to land.
Despite that scare, Miller stayed in the Air Force 12 more years, for a total of 14 1/2.
Miller made it his goal to help veterans after seeing how they were treated after the Vietnam War. They were not getting their benefits, especially if they were black. He became a founding member of the National Association of Black Veterans.
Miller said he “didn’t have a color bias,” but that 60 percent of the Vietnam veterans in combat were black.
“There was a lot of stuff going on,” he said. “Combat fatigue … PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) wasn’t known until 1975. They were just skitso.”
He said PTSD wasn’t officially a mental disease until it was put into the manual in 1984.
Miller is proud of the more than 1,000 veterans and families he has helped receive $3.5 million in benefits each month.
One of his clients was a cook in Vietnam. He was told he couldn’t get benefits because he wasn’t in combat. Miller countered that he was affected because he knew the soldiers in the food line. When he hadn’t seen someone for a while, he might say, “Where’s Josh?” He started to realize he served all these guys their last meals.
That took a toll on him. “He would no longer look at them and get to know them,” Miller said.
Another Vietnam-era veteran was stationed in Utah. He was able to get benefits when Miller found out that he worked as a film processor, and therefore saw images of many dead soldiers.
Miller has also helped many homeless veterans. He said many homeless are untreated for PTSD and use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. Miller found one such veteran himself, sleeping on a doorstep. That man now not only has a home, but a wife and children.
Miller said many soldiers mess up by not paying enough attention at the briefing when they leave the service. The military has said it is not responsible if their condition is not reported before they are done.
“I went through it myself,” Miller said. “Who’s listening? You want to see your family. You just want to sign the papers and get out.”
The Millers moved to Marysville from Seattle nine years ago, and he is part of Mayor Jon Nehring’s Diversity Committee. Miller’s goal for the community is to be more inclusive. He doesn’t see diversity on the council or in the workforce. He wants everyone to have a chance at the American Dream.
“Every citizen needs to have the opportunity to reach their full potential,” he said. “If everybody on your staff looks like you then you’re not practicing diversity.”
While many people don’t like the term affirmative action, Miller said without it minorities won’t reach equality.
“If you’re looking for the most-qualified and experienced you won’t have diversity,” he said. “You have to make a conscious effort to get people of color on your staff.”
As for his involvement in the NAACP, Miller said the goal of the organization is to end discrimination, and despite what some people may think, “It is not a black organization.”
Miller said the Clinton-Donald Trump presidential election is the “most important since Lincoln,” which was followed by the Civil War.
“The war is not over. We just won the battle,” he said of that conflict. “Do we want inclusion and to move forward with equality and justice for everyone?”
Miller said when it comes down to it concerning different cultures: “Everybody is the same. We want the same things,” such as to be safe, have a family, have a job, a good education and quality of life.
Miller said there still is a racist element in this country that feels the same way as it did in 1865, only they’re “not as vocal, but they’re smarter and trickier.”
He said he’s “not disheartened. It’s the best it’s been in this country” for blacks. “When did we stop being great?”