Kerry hadn't been my ideal candidate--I was a Howard Dean gal before he dropped out--but when he became the party's nominee, I supported him wholeheartedly. I also did some local campaigning for this new guy, Barack Obama, who had electrified us at the democratic convention that summer. I even attended a fund-raising luncheon with his wife Michelle, scoring this button in the process (does anybody but me think it's kind of strange?):
My daughter Caitlin and I served as election judges on election day. The job, if you haven't done it, is not terribly difficult, but there's a lot to keep track of and remember, and by the time the polls close and you count all the ballots, it makes for a very long day. We had heard promising reports throughout the day about the exit polls, and were feeling quite optimistic about the outcome of the election. But as we drove the ballots to the main office and listened reports of "irregularities"in Ohio and other states, and our optimism began to fade. It was late, maybe 10 or 10:30 by the time we got home to watch the returns on TV, and began to cry as we watched the election slip away from Kerry.
The outcome of that election disturbed me, not only because Bush won illegally and I thought that it meant disaster for the country, but also because I hated what it had done to me and my relationships to people I loved. In the past, my brother and I had always had lively, if friendly, disagreements about politics. If I pulled up behind somebody at a stop sign with a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker, I had to fight off the urge to rear-end them. (I'm sorry, I truly am, to those of you who supported Bush and are also reading this blog. Especially my family. I no longer feel the urge to rear-end any of you. I love you all, despite your past mistakes.)
And I wasn't alone in my anger. The divisiveness and polarization of politics in this country didn't begin with Bush, but it seems to have become particularly virulent in the past four years.
Which brings me to Barack Obama. Now, Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are really pretty similar when it comes to policy issues, although of course Obama gets points for being against the war from the beginning. I'd vote for any of them in a general election. (The future of the Supreme Court depends on them, for one thing!) But Edwards' "us against them" rhetoric is polarizing. Clinton will give us more of the same divisiveness that dominated the previous Clinton administration, but without Bill's charm. (And besides, who wants Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton? Let's see, that would put Jeb next in line after Hillary, right?)
Only Obama has the ability to unify our country. And I don't care how good Hillary's health care proposals are, if she can't get the Republicans on board with her policies, she won't achieve squat.
I'll just close with an anecdote that Obama told in his speech at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Sunday:
There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organizes for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She's been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and the other day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.
And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.
She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.
She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.
So Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."
By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.
But it is where we begin. It is why the walls in that room began to crack and shake.
And if they can shake in that room, they can shake in Atlanta.
And if they can shake in Atlanta, they can shake in Georgia.
And if they can shake in Georgia, they can shake all across America. And if enough of our voices join together; we can bring those walls tumbling down. The walls of Jericho can finally come tumbling down. That is our hope - but only if we pray together, and work together, and march together.
Amen, brother. Amen.