'They Speak To My Soul': A Senator's Signature Sneakers

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Senator Ed Markey's sneakers at rally on Boston Common. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Senator Ed Markey's sneakers at rally on Boston Common. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

On the evening after the election, and after winning re-election against an opponent with the Kennedy name, countenance and money, Sen. Ed Markey was on Boston Common, railing against the president's refusal to concede.

"We have King Donald who wants, as a despot, to stop the counting of the votes," he said to the crowd. "Donald Trump is scared. Donald Trump has used his control over the Post Office to cast a cloud over this election."

And while voicing the concerns many people have, he was sporting a pair of red, white and black Nikes.

They've been the subjects of blurbs in publications like Vanity Fair. A tweet of him wearing them went viral. The sneakers mean something to him and to his constituents.

Markey's had the shoes since 1981. But it's only this past election where they've garnered attention, particularly after he's made them a symbol for one of the biggest legislative crusades of his political life: The Green New Deal.

Senator Ed Markey and his sneakers talk to the press at a rally on Boston Common. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Sen. Ed Markey and his sneakers talk to the press at a rally on Boston Common. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

"They're absolutely the metaphor. They're Air Revolutions. Originals," he said after rousing the crowd on Boston Common. "And that's what young people wanted. They want a Green New Deal, which is going to create a clean air revolution in our country."

But, if you talk to Markey long enough, he'll tell you he's been a fan of sneakers ever since he can remember, way before he donned a suit for his political life, before the crusade against climate change. Markey said he grew up four blocks away from the original Converse factory in Malden.

"From my earliest memory, basketball sneakers — especially — have been a part of my identity," he said. "I'm a sneaker aficionado."

Lauren Rothman is a Washington, D.C.-based stylist of politicos and CEOs who said she's taken note of the senator's sneakers.

"Are they the most stylish sneakers in the world?" she asks. "Probably not."

But, she said, his kicks seem perfect for showing up to demonstrations like the post-election one on Boston Common, or campaigning during a pandemic. She said they're authentic to him — his political and personal identities — and she said that's what makes them cool.

"I think it's such an avant-garde sneaker that only the elite of sneaker collectors caught it," she said.

It was surprisingly hard to find local sneaker aficionados who have or like the Nike Air Revolution. But based on a few interviews, it seems the reason is because the style came out around the same time as the Nike Air Jordans and got overshadowed and forgotten.

But Dee Wells has a different story.

"Those sneakers speak to my soul," he said. "They're a part of my sneaker history."

Kickstorian DeJongh Dee Wells. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Kickstorian DeJongh Dee Wells. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

We meet at a store called Laced in the Copley Place mall on a recent Wednesday. It's part gourmet sneaker emporium and part museum Wells helped curate, with rare and autographed Nike and Michael Jordan memorabilia behind display cases.

"You're talking close to 3,500 square feet of sneakers, art and culture," he said.

Three things Wells lives and breathes. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of sneakers. A kickstorian.  And Wells said in April he was the first person on Twitter to correctly identify the sneakers Markey was wearing in a viral Tweet.

"I know those sneakers. You can't miss them," Wells said when he saw them. "White, red and black. He's wearing the Air Revolution."

Wells can talk about the shoes for a bit. They were in Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing." The Air Revolution was often worn by players just as good but not as well known as Michael Jordan (political parallels, maybe?).

And out of all the sneakers he has — he "can probably go three years without wearing the same pair of sneakers twice" --  the Air Revolution has a really, really special place. He has a pair lost in a storage unit in Worcester.

Bird, Jordan and Johnson jerseys at the Dream Team display at Laced in Copley Place. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Bird, Jordan and Johnson jerseys at the Dream Team display at Laced in Copley Place. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

"Seeing Sen. Markey wearing them really took me back in a moment in time," Wells said. "I remember my cousins talking about them. Seeing them in Sports Illustrated. Putting in our requests with our family [in the U.S.]. Probably even mailing a money order so they could buy them and ship them back to us in the Virgin Islands."

He said growing up on the island of St. John, he had to wear a uniform to school. And on an island where cool sneakers weren't in abundance, the Air Revolution was a way to express himself.

"I always say 'if you look good, you play good,'" Wells said.

And Markey, an avid basketballer, is a believer in that. He said his mom told him the sneakers wouldn't make him any better at basketball.

"Well, it finally paid off when I won the free throw shooting contest, wearing my Air Revolutions in the United States Congress," Markey said.  "And to my mother, I just want her to know it was a really big pay off, ultimately."

The Nike Air Revolution may not be the dopest sneakers, but for those who wear it, it’s not just rubber and glue. It's a way to stand apart and also a time machine that takes them to a moment when they really believed their sneakers gave them abilities they thought they didn't have.

This segment aired on November 27, 2020.

Headshot of Quincy Walters

Quincy Walters Producer, WBUR Podcasts
Quincy Walters was a producer for WBUR Podcasts.



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