Friday, November 11, 2016

A letter to my friends who voted for Donald Trump.

A letter to my friends who voted for Donald Trump.

You say you are hurt and angry today... feeling vilified for no reason, lashing out at your friends who have offensively called you a racist, or unfairly accused you of hateful things. You exercised your right to vote - nothing more. And as you've said - you voted with hope, and prayer, and after great research and deliberation. You voted for your Republican ideals. You voted your conscience. And your candidate won. You never thought your friends were such sore losers. And now you complain out loud how could any true friend let your vote impact your friendship. You thought your relationship was bigger than politics.

It is. 

And that's exactly why I'm going to tell you why your vote mattered to our friendship.

I am trying to come to terms with the fact that many of the people I know, like, love or respect have completely shaken my trust in them as human beings. I had no idea you were so willing to actively play a part in sacrificing our collective respect for each other, and our nation. Let's be clear: I do not believe everyone who voted for Trump is personally a racist, sexist, rapist and misogynist - you certainly don't think about yourselves that way, and that would be an uneducated and quite idiotic stance for me to take. But adult life is complicated, and nuanced. You say you didn't "vote for hate." Who would?  But...  ignorance of the obvious outcome of your actions is not an excuse. It's like buying Girl Scout cookies and then saying "Oh, I didn't know my money was going to the Girl Scouts" and expecting me to buy that. The label's on the box. I know you're not ignorant - that's why we've been friends for so long. 

This is not political. It has nothing to do with policy, or party, or platforms or positions. Nor sour-grapes that my candidate lost. None. If you can't get past that, stop here. I was apparently wrong about why we have been friends for so long. This was not an election about Republican or Democratic ideals. This was an election, and victory, based in hatred, discrimination and division. You just helped put the man who’s been endorsed by the KKK, a man who’s demonstrated every horrible trait we’ve been taught to despise since kindergarten into the most powerful and influential office in the country. A man who boldly, in front of everyone without shame, remorse or conscience repeatedly performs the actions of lying, cheating, hatefulness, pettiness, name-calling, insulting, body-shaming, selfishness, bigotry, bravado, etc. The EXACT opposite of what we’re taught, and teach our children, a president should be, let alone a decent adult human being.

You may say you don't have these traits, and don't believe in these things, but by voting for the man who DOES you made a very conscious decision to condone All of those things, and accept that they may become an integral part of America's identity for years to come - all in the name of self-righteously voting "Republican" or worse yet, just so your taxes may go down.  This is a sellout of character - and it can't help but be used to redefine how others view you. To stand with a man celebrated by the KKK and promoters of hate, and whose election has already elicited new boldness in instances of violence, discrimination and hate crimes, is what has caused such an emotional and disappointed response by your friends and family, including me.

And for those whom I especially believe should know better...

For those of you who are teachers, You have condoned as the role model for the country, and a generation of children, a person whose behavior and character you said you wouldn't tolerate in your classrooms. You have sanctioned the bullying your cute slogans on school posters promised you will always fight against. Your vote has made all of this a lie - and right in plain view of your students. You have actively helped undo a generation of parenting and respect towards others in the blink of an eye.

If you are a woman, or a mother, or the mother of a daughter, through your vote and your support and your condoning and holding up for all the world to see that the comments and actions of this man against women are acceptable, you have done more damage in a day to the body image, self worth, and respect of girls and women than a legion of sexist men ever could. And as mothers how can you not, quite frankly, be ashamed? 

If you are a Christian, with a stroke of your pen (or pull of your lever) your vote has done significant damage to my children's relationship with Christianity. My children have witnessed endless instances of hate, discrimination, infidelity, sexism, bigotry, lies and violence that were rewarded by Christians with votes and the Presidency, while at the same time witnessing courtesy, decency, civility, truth and a Methodist woman who has carried a bible in her purse for 30 years ignored, vilified and abused with the most vile personal insults imaginable. "Is this what Christianity is?" They are concerned.  Unfortunately, in America... yes it seems to be so. "I don't want to be that" is their very real feeling towards our faith now.

And, I'm tired of hearing that this is God's will. If you truly believed in that even in the slightest, then you would admit that Obama was also God's will, and Obamacare was God's will, and marriage equality was God's will... But we know that's not going to happen. So please stop with this - it is a juvenile statement. No, Hillary Clinton was no saint. But she was also no Trump. Did you ever consider that maybe Trump was delivered to us to prove that Hillary Clinton was nowhere near as bad as she was being portrayed by the hate-mongers? And instead of seeing that, you instead wholeheartedly embraced him. That has just as much potential for truth and also speaks to values and character.

So no, you may not be outwardly racist, or bigoted, or abusive (nor be that way in your heart). And truly, I don't believe you are.

But your ultimate acceptance of these qualities and your assistance in elevating them to the highest position in the land make you no less culpable in the outcome. You don't get to have the righteous indignation to feign disbelief in the disappointment and disgust aimed your way and claim others are off-base for being angry at you for that, and for questioning friendships.  You made the conscious decision to approve the dissemination of a message of bullying, intolerance, sexism, hate and division on your fellow citizens by supporting its messenger. And you are being held responsible for that decision. 

But wait, there is still hope.

If you truly don't condone these things, if you truly are the person I thought you were - prove it. Demand that it ends. Stand up now, early in the transition, and demand that the hate stops, that the violence and discrimination stops. Reject the bullying, the body-shaming, the insults, the assaults on the media, the attacks on decency. These things have already started. Demand that your president-elect publicly condemns and disavows these things. Demand he tells America "These things are wrong" in no uncertain terms.  If you don't, and he doesn't, don't expect me to "forgive" your continued support.

This isn't about politics. It's about character and values. 

And if friendships aren't based on that, are they really friendships at all?


Thursday, August 15, 2013

The first transport is away...

So, it comes down to this...

Tonight our little science experiment (aka “first child”) gets on a train and heads to college.  Or from another view:  he leaves to begin his life on his own, without us.  And none of our lives will be the same after.  From here on, whenever he comes home he will be a visitor.  If he ever “lives” in our house again it will be considered to be because something has gone wrong.  That’s the way it works.

When he was 6 we made the decision to push him forward into 1st grade. His entire life, most of his friends from sports and activities outside of school have been a grade behind him.  They are all starting their Senior year in high school this year. Their parents have another year.  They’re just now painting their names on the stadium walkway.  Band camp is starting. The excitement of the final year of high school, and the dream of college plans, is just beginning.  For us it’s a memory. He’s leaving home.

In a way, we were all a bit cheated out of his last year because of his health problems – they tainted everything, made the time fly by, clouded the enjoyment for him and us of so many things his last year.  But even though it’s easy to say I wish we had another year – that would just delay the inevitable, and be extremely self-serving.

He’s leaving home to start his new individual life. Sure, he did his own things in high school, but now it’s all new – a clean slate.  No friends you’ve known for 16 years, and no one having any legacy information about you at all. From here on, it’s all what he will make of it. An adult life. I’m sure it’s more scary for him than depressing for us – but that will change quickly.  We’ll still have the empty chair at the kitchen table and the bedroom filled with mementos but with an empty bed long after he’s realized how great his new life and new opportunities are.  He’ll do fantastic, and we’ll be his biggest fans - for life.

So, to our little science experiment:  Go, start your new life, have the time of your life. Don’t worry about us, but don’t forget us.  And remember these things:  we’ll always be rooting for you, we’ll always be here, and we did a pretty good job – you’re ready for the world.  So go give ‘em hell!


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Baby you can drive my car...

(Updated in 2015. Originally posted Jan 13, 2006)

As I dropped off my car at the dealer for some maintenance work today I started thinking about all the cars I've owned - and how many of my memories, and how much of my history, can be mapped through the vehicles I've driven. You could say my personal reality (though not necessarily my "personality") was reflected by my choice of ride.

In my driving age life I've so far had the experience of owning (in one form or another) twenty-two vehicles - if you allow the motorcycle. Some were purchased, some were acquired, some were used and some were new. Not all were what could be considered my "first choice" in an automobile. But all were compelling enough that somehow the cash left my wallet and the keys went into my hand without any embarrassment or remorse... well, with one exception.

And of course, all have stories.

So what does a vehicle mean about you? I don't know. The best I can do is provide a brief snapshot of where each car came in my life. I'll let you figure the rest out.

The tour begins...

1979: '65 Ford Galaxie 500
My first car - inherited when my uncle died. It had 150,000 miles and spark plugs that were fused to the engine casing. After 30 days of trying to get it running right, it dies a horrible death when the engine seized. Let that be lesson #1: oil is important.

1979: '70 Chevy Vega
After the Galaxy died I purchased my neighbors rusting out Vega for $200, until I could find that "cool" car I wanted. I ended up having the Vega through two years of high school and the beginning of my dating life. Damn stick on the floor put a damper on a lot of things. So did the water leaking from the windshield onto the passenger seat. When three engine mounts rusted out and the engine would smack the inside of the hood when it would start it was time to part with it. Got $50 from the salvage yard.

1980: '72 Chevy Malibu 4dr
Had a $50 deposit down on a 70 Mustang and needed Mom to go up and sign for it. She came home with the banana boat - big yellow ("cream" I insisted) 4dr Malibu. I was mad for years. But the Malibu ended up being a great car for a high school senior, and college freshman. Big bench seats, a big V8, and a smooth ride. Didn't look cool, but it acted cool. Got my first experience with installing a stereo and with doing fiberglass body repair on this one. As with all 60s and 70s Chevys, rust was its ultimate demise - but not before it lasted a good 3+ years. It was the car that made the infamous NYC tour in 1981... but that's for another story.

1983: '78 Toyota Celica hatchback
First car I purchased on my own, during my second year of college. Used my student loan to buy it (since "transportation" was a valid expense). Famous for one drunken night in the middle of winter, at 1:00 am, when at a friend's house I declared "let's put a sunroof in" and we proceeded to cut a hole out of the roof with a single old jigsaw blade. Believe it or not, it was one of the only sunroofs I've ever had that didn't leak. Backed it into a tree at a party and got my first experience with dent pullers. I think it would have run forever - it's probably still out there today.

1985: '85 Toyota Celica GTS
My first new car. I guess I thought my current college debt wasn't enough. Didn't think the dealer would finance it and was just having a little fun test driving cars on a Saturday (I didn't have money or a job) and ended up driving home a $19,000 car. My first manual transmission. And what a screamer it was. The most fun to drive car I've ever owned. But in my early 20's I was lucky to live through the "immortal phase" with this car. Passing a semi at 115MPH on the shoulder was a blast at the time. Went flying past two highway patrol cars doing 120MPH and they never pulled out. Must have been break time. Finally run over by a semi... at a traffic light. Never quite the same after that. Had it for four years - longest I've ever driven a car. Finally sold it when I quit my high paying job to go back to school.

1987: '79 Jeep CJ7
Still had the GTS, but bought the Jeep to fulfill a promise to my roommate at the time. If he'd buy a boat, I'd buy something to pull it with. So, the idiot ran out and bought a 21' Bayliner. The other idiot, thought it would be cool to have a Jeep. It was - just not to pull a 21' Bayliner with! After numerous incidents, and near incidents (sinking the Jeep in the river trying to pull the boat out) the roommate and I finally parted ways. I kept the CJ7 a few more years and enjoyed the hell out of it. What a blast. 25, single, sports car, Jeep and a motorcycle... I was lovin' life...

1987: '70 Pontiac GrandPrix
What do you do when you're 24, you have a motorcycle a sports car and a Jeep and your insurance rates are astronomical? You buy a $500 beater and insure it as your primary vehicle and get a "fleet rate" on the rest of your fleet. Bad brakes and a bad engine, this one sat parked on the street for about two years. In the end it had it's roof cut off with a chainsaw and sacrificed its life to become a fraternity float car.

1987: '80 Kawasaki 440 LTD
Weekend fun and easy parking... need I say more? Never ran great, and 55MPH was about its limit. Wife to be loved it, Mother-in-law to be hated it. But it was fun while it lasted. In 1991 (when I was preparing to get married) after I watched a muffler kick out from under an 18-wheeler, hit about 20 feet in front of me and bounce right over my head, I knew it was time to hang my helmet up...

1990: '80 Dodge (Shelby) Charger
Quit my engineering job and went back to school while working at the Disney Store (Really!). Sold all my other stuff, including the GTS (although I kept the motorcycle) and bought this from a "friend". Okay she was someone I was trying to get to be more than a friend (this was a few weeks before meeting wife to be of course) but alas... Anyway, bought this thing for $500 as a tie-over. The only thing "Shelby" about this puppy was its paint job. Worst car I ever owned - and the scariest too. Thought I was going to die on more than one occasion in the snow. Just up and died after about 5 months. Good riddance.

1991: '91 Hyundai Scoupe
Almost married, with a dead Charger, I needed something cheap - but didn't want an old beater. Got a brand new Scoupe for $8K. Say what you like, it was actually a good little car. Had it four years - and then was married, had a house, and was ready for a change and something a little nicer.

1991: '85 Ford Mustang
Okay, I didn't really own this one - it was my wife's car when we got married. So I acquired it through marriage. What a lousy car this was. Thank god it finally got hit from the rear and everything started dying at the same time. (Too bad when it got hit we were inside it.) Nothing like having to have the heater on full blast in 95 degree weather so the damn engine wouldn't overheat. Good riddance to you too.

1993: '93 Mazda 626 LX
Replaced the Mustang as my wife's car (I still had the Scoupe). She loved it and it became mine years later - when it should have been traded in. All in all, it was a great car for about 125K miles - and it will always be our first "family car" since our first child was conceived in... oops, I mean was born when we had it...

1995: '95 Toyota Celica ST
So, we had the family car, and I felt the need for a "me" car again. Enter the new Celica. 30 days after buying it we found out we were having a baby and an infant carrier/seat wouldn't fit in the backseat. Went on the auction block and was sold 2 months later. Only had it for 3 months, but one thing was painfully evident: it wasn't made for people over 5'7", and don't ever buy anything below the GTS model. I'm actually glad I had a reason to sell it.

1995: '95 Mazda Protege LX
After ditching the Celica, I decided to get another "family" car, but a cool one that young people drove. So, enter the Protege. Cheaper, roomier and better equipped at the time than the Civic, it was a bargain at $12,500. It truly was a great car. Probably the best all around car and value of any of the bunch I've owned - really. Unfortunately, when the "minivan" came into play we made the mistake of selling this and keeping the older (but paid off) 626. Should have kept the Protege as the 626 went downhill quickly at 7 years old.

1999: '99 Honda Odyssey
Ahh... the minivan. Gotta have one. And in 1999, this was *the* one to have. With a 6-9 month waiting list in town, we bought one sight-unseen over the internet at a dealer 300 miles away in another state. You have to remember that in 1999, this was not common practice. We were treated as odd celebrities at the dealer and came home with the van of vans. Not the most luxurious of the minivans, but I'd buy another one in a heartbeat. Even that magnet-like fire hydrant at the end of the driveway can't stop this van - although it sure can do it's share of damage.

2001: '01 Nissan Maxima 6-spd
Third child and a visit to Mr. Snippy equated to a need for horsepower... When the 626 died it was the "Year of the Altima" with its new redesign at Nissan. Went up looking to buy an Altima and came home instead leasing a Maxima for much less than the Altima. This was my first taste of leasing - and trying to justify leasing to my wife. To say I was anal about the condition of the car is an understatement. When my 6 year old son spilled red Kool-Aid all over the carpets and stained them permanently, I experienced my first ever conniption-fit. 265-hp, 17 inch wheels and a 6-spd stick... Wow. But it sucked in the snow! Sold it in 2004 (instead of giving back to Nissan) when the lease expired.

2004: '04 Honda Accord EX
Another new car acquired on lease. I have to admit this is a nicer car than I thought it would be. Great in rain and snow, 255 hp V6, heated leather and XM radio. Well, at this age I deserve a few perks, right? Hopefully this will be great for the next few years. Especially since I know a new van will be in our future soon.

2007: '07 Honda Accord EX
Okay, took the easy route at lease end and just flipped into a new Accord - exactly the same as the '04. Same color, same amenities, everything. While still a nice car, I learned early that I preferred the '04 better. Maybe the larger 17" wheels give a rougher ride, something was "less" than before. Or maybe I was just finally getting tired of the Accord - my ability to like a car lasts anywhere from 24-48 months. Not bad, but I'll be ready for something new before the lease is up.

2010: '10 Honda Odyssey EX
Well, the desire to get into a new car early came unexpectdly as the '99 Odyssey started exhibiting signs of sudden death. So... still need a van, so Honda took the Accord back 6 months early and we now have the joy of having 2 Odysseys - one a new lease and one which we thought would soon be on the For Sale page of the paper. Of course, 2 weeks after doing this deal, we find that the dealer was wrong and $500 fixed the '99, not $5000. So, guess we'll make the best of it. Have to say, just like the Accord experience, I actually like the old van better than the new one. Handling seemed better and a lot of the cute quirky little features were removed from the '10 - like the pullout center tray and the reversible rear seat (to face backwards with hatch up). And, since this one is leased, that means it's going to be mine for 3 years. Ah, the joy.

2010: '11 Subaru Outback SE
Well, only a few months into the 2 van "odyssey" (pun intended) and my wife totals the '99. Okay, it doesn't take a lot to total an 11 year old van without comprehensive insurance, but totaled nonetheless. So, we ventured out of our longstanding Honda relationship to go with my wife's new choice: the Outback. With the Outback you get a lot for your money (wow, did that just sound old) Seems like a great car, and the only one I know of that gives you seat heaters with cloth seats. Very nice amenities and a comfortable car. The 4 cylinder engine is powerful enough for my wife (I'd prefer the 6), and it does take a while to get used to the CVT. All in all though it seems like it will be a great alternative to a van - which unfortunately I'm still driving.

2011: '04 Mazda6 S V6
I haven't bought a used car in decades, and so I was a bit wary of buying one when my 16 year old started driving, so of course I got one I liked. While this Mazda needed a few fixes, it runs beautifully and I have to admit this is one fun little car to drive. Tricked out and a nice V6 and 5 speed manual, this Mazda 6 S is one of those rare older inexpensive sports cars. Reminds me a lot of the old Celica GTS. I drove it for 4 months prior to handing it over to my son, and I was very sad going back to the van. But, I sneak weekend drives every now and then.

2012: '12 Infiniti G25x
Ah, okay I finally got so tired of driving a van I started looking around and dreaming a year early. Infiniti to the rescue. They bought the van outright 11 months early and I even came out ahead. Walked out with a G25x and paying less than I was for the Odyssey each month - gotta love leasing if it's a good fit for you. The G is a very nice car. I wanted all-wheel drive, so wanted an X model. And since my daily commute is a whopping 8 miles each way, I opted to save money and go with the G25 and not the G37. Yes, that's the decision an old person would make! Same car except for the engine - and Yes, it is a huge difference in engine (320 hp vs 210). 20 years ago and I wouldn't have touched the G25 because of this, but times and priorities change. Bit of a compromise, but for driving 20 miles a day I couldn't justify the extra monthly $ just so I could have a better chance of getting a speeding ticket. Beautiful car, smooth engine, and still fun to drive. This one will have to last me till the Mercedes, or whatever comes next. Look for an update in 2015...

2015: '15 Honda Accord EX-L
"This one will have to last me till the Mercedes, or whatever comes next. Look for an update in 2015..."  So said the man who had yet to have kids in college! Welcome to three years later, and tens of thousands in college tuition payments due, and, well... it's time to be a little more practical for a while. That's not to say I feel like I've downgraded in any way (other than the badge) - this 2015 Accord is extremely nice, and actually feels an upgrade to the Infiniti. Nice roomy interior and upgraded security features (Lane-Watch is very cool). Wow, the Accord has come a long way since its inception - and just as far from the frumpy 2009-2012 model. Okay, and I have to admit, after 3 years of an underpowered engine mated with a poorly-matched transmission, I was ready for a change.  But who would have thought that a 185hp Honda 4-cylinder with a CVT would be this smooth and would blow away a 210hp V-6 Infiniti? Plus, the Infiniti averaged a whopping 18mpg on premium gas on my commute. So far the Accord is averaging 28mpg on regular - and its performance (0-60) is 2 full seconds faster than the G25x. My only gripe is that in 2015, HondaLink still sucks with an iPhone... Ah well, always have to have some reason to trade it in in 3 years! 

So, that's 23 vehicles in 35 years (and that Porsche is still as much out of reach as ever). That's quite a bit of personal automotive history.

Does that all tell you anything? Probably not. But damn it was fun to remember!


Friday, July 15, 2011

Suffering from PPD

I have to admit. Today I am suffering from PPD, or: Post Potter Depression.

Yes, last night my family and I went to the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II. And so an unexpectedly huge chapter of my life has come to a likewise unexpectedly sad close.

Has it been 12 years already?

It's hard to believe that it has been almost twelve years since we first encountered Harry Potter (the books) and began reading them with our then 3 year old son. We came late to the party, and thanks to J.K. Rowling's psychotically fast writing pace, there were already 2 books on the shelf and one soon to be released when we started reading in 1999. And, rumor had it, there was talk of a movie on the way.

My how time flies.

The ties that bind.

And so with 3 children now, aged 15, 12 and 9, I find myself looking back on more than a decade of a single solitary unifying feature of our lives together: the next Harry Potter "something."

There was always a new book on the horizon, or a next film to be anticipated. Even after the Deathly Hallows book was released (and read over, and over, and over) there were films to wait for - and talk about, and guess about, and discuss what might be new in this film - or what might be left out. Who would be the winners or losers. Which cast members would we see. Would the house elves return for a larger role, or would their memory be all that we got.

Oh, the wonder. On each book and movie release we were amazed at the never-ending treasure of magical fantasy it brought to our lives.

We always had something to dream about, or go back and re-check to be sure we had our facts straight before the next film came out. We must have listened to the complete Book 7 on tape three times while waiting for DH1 and DH2 to come out (In fact we just listened to it again during 20 hours of driving on vacation in June) - and that was after reading the book twice.

We watched our kids grow up - and remember some of it through various Harry Potter references: Was that photo of little Dumbledore from Halloween or when we went to the midnight book release all decked out? Was that the Christmas we got the 4 DVD collectors set? Remember planning a vacation around being up at 3am and in line for 4 hours to be one of the first into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios the weekend it opened? Remember how we planned our day around hiking back to the Three Broomsticks to get Butterbeer?

Remember going to see the Midnight premiere of Deathly Hallows part II?

This last one however is bittersweet. We've waited a long time for this. And..., now it's gone. Finished.

It doesn't matter if the movie didn't exactly match the book (something that drives my wife and son mad). It doesn't matter who was left out and who wasn't or what little detail was changed. None of the usually arguable minutia matter today because, well, it's all over.

No more anticipation. No more mystery. No more dreaming of what may come. Only memories.

And even as Neville Longbottom says in the final film, that those that leave us are never really gone but live on in our hearts, somehow that doesn't seem enough to keep the same kind of joy alive that we've had for ten years. But what was especially unexpected was that the feeling struck without warning, and immediately upon the final credits appearing onscreen. I for one wanted, and expected to end with a feeling of fantasy and anticipation like I had all along.

The final movie, while a fine movie in its own right, could never be expected to fulfill such a burden. What it does is end with a fitting commentary of life and youth: that life goes on, and we must grow up and move on.

We've all grown up over twelve years (children and adults alike), and so we will need to move on from what Harry Potter has meant to us for more than a decade, and get to the business of living the rest of our lives with only the memory of how it was the first time we read the book or saw a film.

And while there will be a thousand new joys we'll experience, somehow - maybe only for today - it seems just a little bit more sad without the anticipation of the next Harry Potter something to anticipate.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Umm... What just happened?

Granted I've been out of the blogging world for a while, but...

I have to say, I've felt a little "out of touch" with the rest of the population this year.

I've chalked that up to the passing of a loved one in January and a friend over the summer. It's easy to feel out of touch when you feel pain that the rest of the world doesn't - and doesn't even seem to notice.

But now there's this.

Over my adult life I've voted in countless elections, large and small. On a good year, I'm about 60/40 - 60% of my votes are for winners. An excellent year might see it approach 70/30. And on really bad years I've been as low as 30/70.

But never, ever, ever have I experienced what happened Tuesday, November 2, 2010.

My record yesterday? 0 for 22.

Yep: Zero. Zilch. Nada. Not one damn candidate or issue I voted for won. Not one! I vote for a Republican, the Democrat wins. I vote for a Democrat, the Republican wins. I vote Yes, the issue goes No.

Talk about feeling out of touch! Geez...

Out of touch with my community, my County, my State... maybe it's time to move. When I was younger, a community was where you grew up. As I get older, I'm starting to feel more like "my community" should be a place with which I share common values - and obviously isn't this place where I grew up.

Maybe it really is time to move. But where? Where in America is the place where people don't have the political attention span of a fruit fly in heat? Where in America is the place where people value logic, intelligence and compromise, not extreme uncompromising rhetoric? Where in America do the educated moderates live?

Someday maybe I'll find out where "my community" resides. But, obviously, that day most cetainly was not November 2nd of 2010.


Friday, March 28, 2008

In memory of Chaos and Trouble

Chaos and Trouble

Today is a sad day - and I've had many in my life.

It was a sad day when I was summoned home early from 3rd grade 36 years ago to learn my father had died suddenly. It was a sad day when on my 12th birthday, our family dog died of kidney failure in our basement. It was a sad day holding my daughter's hand as she endured immense pain after brain surgery nine years ago.

But today stands unique in that it is today that I had to say goodbye to two old friends together. It is also unique because I knew it was our conscious decision to let them go, and my wife and I were there holding them both at the end.

There will be no more "good morning Chaos" or "good night Trouble" or "good girls" spoken in our house. I won't hear their heavy breathing by the side of the bed when I sleep. I won't see their greedy smiles when they get a treat. And I won't get to see them at their absolute happiest when out taking a walk - even when they barely had strength to stand.

Yes, today was the unhappy day we had to put both of our dogs, two of our longest and dearest friends and family members, to sleep forever. It was without question the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

Chaos. It was about 16 years ago...

We were newly married and had gone to the pound to look for a puppy. We thought we were looking for a big dog like a retriever, or german shepherd. But there she was - a little white fluffball. Dachshund and Poodle she was destined to never get bigger than 14 pounds, but her wild white hair made her look much bigger.

Her distinction was that unlike the other puppies that day, she ran right over to us and pranced all around like a happy little dancing bunny - and of course gave us kisses. She was energetic and yet she was also the most lovable lap dog. She wanted only to be held, loved and to play. And she loved to run, run, run. Boy was she fast - a little white dart shooting across a field over and over.

We named her Chaos not just because she added the first bit of chaos to our new marriage, but because when she ran, she ran with reckless speed and abandon. Play to her was a time of sheer wildness and joy. She was the embodiment of our new marriage - a puppy with her whole life an empty slate ahead of her.

She was our first child. We were amazed at the "human" things she did like hold her treats and bones between her paws in a way that looked like hands. She was smart as a tack and seemed to always know what we meant. She slept with us every night and would tunnel way under the sheets and sleep between us at our feet - but always under the covers. In the morning she would stick her little head out and wait for us to wake up - her long fluffy white tail thumping between the sheets and the bed. She was truly the dog of our dreams.

And then came Trouble.

Less than a year later I decided one dog wasn't crazy enough, so I snuck to the pound one day and brought home a little beagle/shepherd mix puppy and put her on the bed to surprise my wife, who was home ill. Little did I know that her smoky puppy breath wouldn't be an immediate hit.

Nor would her crying and screaming at night (she was obviously weaned too soon) go over well with our apartment neighbors.

She was the difficult one, the beggar, the alpha dog. She had a mouth fetish (always gnawing on something, including our hands) and had the loudest of barks.

We named her Trouble because, well... it fit her personality.

But she loved to be petted and have her belly rubbed, and when you rubbed her just right, behind the ears, I swear you'd hear her sigh. She loved to walk and jump, and she too found a place on the bed and became a sweetheart.

Somewhere along the way, these two misfits became lifelong friends. They ate together, slept together, played together, took every walk together. They had very different personalities, and yet neither one was the same without the other. Chaos was the adventurous one who would take any chance of an open gate to leave on an excursion. We spent hours over the years tracking her down. It was Trouble who wouldn't venture outside the yard - or would come and bark at us when Chaos did.

They moved with us, went on vacations and to parks with us, grew with us, and they were always happy to see us, and they were always there for us - no matter what.

As happens to most dogs, these two wonderful companions became pets again once we were fully engaged with raising three human children of our own. But they never complained and they had what one could rightfully call a good life.

They were still part of the family, although they no longer slept on the bed and they had a bit less energy to play. But it was easy to see their happiness - and they still walked with the joy they always had, even if the walks were a bit shorter.

But the last few years have seen these wonderful friends begin their decline into a region that is no longer the realm of a happy companion. And the last few months have been extremely difficult. Trouble, the playful fighter, suffered from severe arthritis and had trouble getting up. She wanted no one to touch her and would withdraw from anyone who tried. Chaos was losing her bodily functions.

Chaos, the most loving trusting friend in the world fell victim to dementia and was lost inside herself - and she was terrified of all of us. She could no longer be held or petted without shaking with fear. While her dementia was not as full blown, it was obvious that Trouble also did not know where she was much of the time. Both would stand motionless as statues staring at a wall or into thin air for hours.

Both were in pain, both were dying and both couldn't remember us or the life we had. Those memories are now our responsibility to carry on.

When your veterinarian says "it's time" then you know in your soul it's time. But it's so difficult for your heart to agree. And losing two together is as painful as it can be.

Today we said goodbye to two friends who have been part of our lives for almost 17 years. Like the marriage they grew with, we have all changed and no longer have our whole lives, nor an empty slate, ahead of us. We are all moving to another phase in the cycle of life and death.

I wish I could hold them again. I wish I could tell them again I love them. I wish they could know how loved they were and how much joy and happiness they brought us every day over the years. I wish I could tell them how much they meant to us... just one more time.

But I can't. They're gone now. I will always know we did the right thing, and yet always wonder if we really did.

This morning Chaos and Trouble took their last walk with us in the park by the river. Maybe it was the cold brisk morning air, but both of them had a bit more spring in their step than they've had in a long time. Maybe they knew, as our vet likes to say, they were going to a place where they'd be two years old again and the pain and the fear would be gone.

I miss them already.

And I'm sure I'll cry for them again tonight, as I did holding them for the last time this morning.

In the past, it was always Chaos and Trouble who could comfort me during times like this.

It's ironic that it's tonight when I'll need them the most.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Most Presidential Speech

There's little anyone can say about Senator Barack Obama's speech today in Philadelphia, except this:

This is why he should be our next President.

Please read below one of the most honest, open and frank discussions of America in recent history.
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
"A More Perfect Union"
Constitution Center
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution - a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part - through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters....And in that single note - hope! - I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories - of survival, and freedom, and hope - became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about...memories that all people might study and cherish - and with which we could start to rebuild."

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments - meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families - a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods - parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement - all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American - and yes, conservative - notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with today - a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one 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.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, 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."

"I'm 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 start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.