Wednesday, July 28, 2004

One Barack Obama

From the Christian Science Monitor today--
"When a speaker speaks at a podium at the Democratic convention, and there are no cameras around to capture him, has he made any sound?"

(referring to both the networks' non-coverage on Tuesday night, and aired-over pundit commentary during speeches, more specifically, the speech of one Barack Obama.)

Okay my people, I'm going to stump. Not for the Dems or for Kerry, or even for a particular candidate to win. I'm stumping to let something move us, and for that to be the kingdom and the power and the glory come through us in our daily lives.

I crave good oratory like a baby craves milk. I need someone to name it for me. It's not "tak[ing] the same sentiments [in traditional political speeches], and . . . mak[ing] it new . . . [so that] you feel like you're hearing it and watching it for the first time, " as Jeremy Dauber reports in The Monitor. Good oratory does not make it new; it makes it true.

Last night I watched Barack Obama address the Democratic National Convention. My dearie, Katie, had told me to look out for him and said that he was really good. Other than that, though, I had no familiarity with the man. Turns out he's a state senator in Illinois right now, a law professor at The University of Chicago, and a former editor of the Harvard Law Review. He is a young man, 42, is married, has two daughters, and is of mixed ethnicity (Kenyan-born pop and whitebread American mom). Oh ya, he was raised in Hawaii. So that's a little about the man.

As I listened to his speech, something was happening to me. I was moved to hold the positive perceptions of the flaws in our country, the flaws that have touched my life, like my Harlem kids struggling to get some learning. I am aware of the growing gulf in their chances. I am aware of this very real problem. I feel despair because the problem is so mulit-faceted with layers of sources. And here Obama says to me in one swift line: "Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can't teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white." He speaks with force. He is empassioned with a sense of reckoning, reckoning without anger and filled with hope--pouring over with hope.

People are referring to his address as the "One America" speech. He spoke to me about what I knew. But he also told me some things I did not know. He spoke about the forces embedded in our daily lives (he called them the pundits, others call it the media) "who slice and dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats." He drew enough comparisons to prove to us that we are all the same in our basic concerns.

You know, I quite enjoy defining myself. Tells me more about who I am. But I think Obama even surpassed my cognizance in some particular areas of who I may be as a citizen. I'm not usually big on patriot-speak, as most of us liberals are not. But I think part of the reason I'm a teacher is because I hold dear what it is to be a citizen. I like what Obama told me about the slicing and dicing I do. I draw lines. We all do. To defend. To define. Perhaps to reckon. But some more "E pluribus unum--out of many, one" can do us all some good, at heart, in mind.

Dauber finished his article with this--

There were some good speeches tonight. But only his transcended 'good' to 'great.' Only one that broke out of both the silence created by the absence of television coverage and the bonds of the stories created by television pundits.

Barack Obama, I think, may not just be the latest example of "A Star is Born", the next Evan Bayh or Jennifer Granholm or Chris Heinz or whoever the parties are going to anoint as fresh faces and new stars. Barack Obama isn't anything but Barack Obama, sui generis, and that is far, far more than enough.

The broadcast networks chose to take tonight off. Which is too bad. They missed the national debut of what could be one of the most exciting and important voices in American politics in the next half century.

--and that I agree with.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Six years as a northerner makes me ready to see new things (And I'll tell you that I may be just as happy in Birmingham, Alabama or Merridian, Mississippi right now because it is The South I crave.)

I don't believe The South is about progress. I believe it is about keeping things whole.

Warm air makes you want to take your clothes off. Palm trees make you want to kick up your feet. And apartment complexes, some of them, especially the ones designed in courtyard fashion, make people want to congregate in the middle of it all. The other evening I had the good fortune of being led down a path, past a couple of iron gates, to the back building of "The BV."

We dropped our Lone Star longnecks in the fridge (Lone Star is big here. They have pretty, new, red, white & blue labels just the way Texans like it), and walked over to the two-story deck in the middle of the courtyard. We were elevated, sitting in wood-slatted beach chairs, being cooled by breeze and a spinning fan at the top of a high blue canvass cover.

The green of trees should be taken in at eye-level. It's as if someone has brought them to you. You sit amongst them, like Jane or Tarzan. Even though Houston's topography is flat and a little swampy, they are proud of their trees. My complex is plump with them. Magnolias, people, tall, graceful, with leaves so stately that they've been carved.

But there's something about a palm tree. I can't believe my luck everytime I'm able to lounge with one in sight. It's not the same with the ones towed in and planted for atmosphere. Those look like landscaping in Las Vegas. But living in a city where they actually belong because the balmy, sweaty sea air tells you so, you can't help but feel a little like you're on vacation in the evenings that belong to your regular work week.

One glorious glimpse so far. I could have kissed the tree trunk. I could have kissed the wooden beach chair. But instead, I just laid my head as far back as it could go, looked up into the blue, and appreciated that little moment in time.