Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Please Vote! (Also, what Obama has done for me.)

I just stood in the rain for and hour and a half (with another half-hour waiting inside) just to vote. Did I mind? No, because as Alice Walker said (and Barack Obama quoted), "We are the ones we have been waiting for." Everyone in line was in good spirits. Teens were having people take their picture in line, to commemorate their part in this election. Parents had their children with them, some planning to drop the kids at school after, but others to teach them about the democratic process.

I grew up in a politically active family. Grandma was a mayor and she and Grandpa advocate for veterans' rights. Dad was on the Planning and Zoning commission. Mom protested for Planned Parenthood. We went door-to-door working on political campaigns. We would all go vote together. I was a page in the Iowa State House of Representatives.

I helped run letter writing campaigns for issues I thought were important, like preserving the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge. At the time, the campaign brought in more letters to the White House than had been seen on any issue in nearly three decades. It worked! We won. Then Bush took office, and quickly undid all of our sweat, work and words. He didn't care that hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of Americans cared enough to write on behalf of the preserve.

I found myself disillusioned with politics, a disillusionment that only grew as I taught in the South Bronx under the No Child Left Behind act. Day after day, I saw the needs of people fall by the wayside, lost to the needs of political parties. I stepped away from politics, and began waiting for someone to fix things somehow. I forgot that no one can do it but us. ("Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -- Margaret Mead)

Recently, Barack Obama has given me some of that old optimism back and (dare I say it) hope. My friend Kelly has accused me of "drinking the Kool-aide." I haven't. I used to be a reporter, and I still have a level head. I'm good at cutting through spin. Obama's yes-we-can-hope-hope-hope rhetoric is a sales pitch, but I respect that he chose a positive sales pitch. I respect his economic and social ideas. I think he will be a remarkable diplomat, repairing the USA's relationship abroad.

Obama did something unexpected: he appealed to the patriotism of the left! Democrats may love their country differently than Republicans, but just as deeply. He has roused not only my activist side, but that of scores of people who previously felt disenfranchised.

If you love your country, go vote for whomever you believe in. Be a part of the process. As Ghandi said, "Be the change you hope to see in the world." We are the ones we have been waiting for.

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