Friday, October 24, 2008

Ramblings: Let America Be America

O, let America be America again-
The land that never has been yet-
And yet must be- the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine- the poor man's, Indian's Negro's, ME-
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose-
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those that live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath-
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain-
All, all the stretch of these great green states-
And make America again!

This is just an extract from a poem written by Langston Hughes called "Let America be America Again." I encourage everybody to find the whole poem and read it for yourself. Every time I read it aloud to somebody I get chills down my spine and tears in my eyes, because it so perfectly captures the great opportunity that we have sitting in front of us right now. The opportunity to shift away from the misguided path our country is heading down, and to make a massive step on the road to living up to the common dream of America. The dream we all are so used to identifying with; as Hughes puts it a country where "opportunity is real and life is free, equality is in the air we breath." We all identify with this superior image of our country, but we have never lived up to it. And sadly in the past eight years we have gotten farther away from that dream than any other time in our history.

The past century has seen America fluctuate back and forth occasionally advancing towards and then diverging away from the dream that Hughes describes. When Hughes wrote this poem during the Great Depression America was at its lowest...broken down, disillusioned, and divided, but then came a leader in FDR who had the power to inspire Americans to not only pull themselves out of their economic despair, but to make sacrifice in their own lives to come together to fight and win a war to ensure freedom for people all around the world. But we certainly hadn't reached the dream yet with internment of our own Japanese American citizens, the continuance of a terribly flawed and demeaning policy for the first Americans with the Indian Reorganization Act, and still so incredibly far away from equality for women and Black Americans. In the 1960's America reacted to another low point in our history as racism in America began to boil over. We were led towards the dream of truly free and equal America again with a new generation of great leaders, like Martin Luther King, and the Kennedys. We made giant steps forward in terms of gender and racial equality, and it was a time where the people of the working class had more power and influence than any other time in our history. Then by the end of 1968 the dream had faded as our inspiring leaders were killed off, and we became embroiled in the Vietnam War.

Today we remain in one of those dark periods, caught up in two more wars and a foreign policy that has made us resented around the world. At home we've entered a modern gilded age, where the rich and powerful toss around the fates of the rest of country without a second thought. The people who suffer from this careless leadership and corporate greed are by and large the hard working people trying to carve out a piece of the American dream for their own families. But now in Barack Obama I think we have the kind of once in a generation leader that has the ability to pilot our country toward that dream again, and take us closer than ever before.

Obama embodies the very essence of the "American Dream," with an immigrant father who came to America as a student full of hope, and raised by a mother and grandparents from a Kansas farming family that did everything they could to make sure that he had the opportunity to become the man he is today. Obama has showed his ability to inspire Americans right from the beginning when he first emerged onto the political scene with his famous "Audacity of Hope" speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I have seen for myself here in Africa the effect his election would have on America's reputation around the world. I could see it in the gleam in my friend Mepese Gondwe's eye after we finished listening to Obama's speech on BBC at this years Democratic Convention, as Mepese exclaimed, "It will change the world, if he gets elected!" More than anything I think great leaders can be judged on what they bring out of other people. I know that Barack Obama is going to bring out the very best in America, and can only imagine what effect it will have on the development of all of human civilization. What a spectacular opportunity to change the course of history!

I've actively participated in campaigns in every election since I turned 18. I love the excitement and enthusiasm that comes out during election season. I love the debate that occurs as we all start to talk about how we want our country to be, and how we can get there, and who can lead us there. This debate that occurs every couple years is such an important part of a healthy democracy (although we have a lot to learn about debating the issues instead of just devolving into an exchange of personal attacks and negativity) but the open discussion and picking apart of different ideas is what drives the evolution of our government and the world as a whole. And so now we've come to this, the most important election of my life, with the most inspiring candidate I've ever seen, and I'm off in the African bush. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trade what I'm doing here for anything in the world, but I feel a bit guilty knowing that America is on the brink of an ideological revolution and I'm not there to have a hand in it. I have already cast my votes for Obama, and Mark Udall in the Senate by mail in ballot, and I guess this blog is my last desperate attempt to do a bit of campaigning through the magic of the internet.

It's great to hear how my family is there throwing everything they have into this campaign. My Mom is the ward captain for the Broomfield county democrats and spent most of her free time these last few months going door to door, and making phone calls for Obama. My father is the stalwart debater. You'd be hard pressed to find a more well-informed person as he reads the New York Times cover to cover each day, and has mastered the art of Tivo so he can compare the three major news networks stories with the PBS, Democracy Now, and Daily show's take on each days news. He's a man never to back down from a false fact regurgitated by one of his coworkers from Fox News, or an ill-informed argument made by an acquaintance on the golf course. If he thinks your wrong, he won't shy away from telling you about it, and he has the information to back it up. Even my Aunt Kathy doesn't let an advanced case of Multiple Sclerosis slow her down. She could be found every day of the Democratic National Convention rolling around the streets of Denver in her wheelchair volunteering. Then there is my brother one of the heroes of the good fight. He wrote the Energy Bill for the Senate that many people say was the best in years, worked tirelessly on the economic stimulus bill that we all heard so much about, and still doesn't put himself above going door to door, and making phone calls to get people out to vote.

I'm very proud of the roles my family finds for themselves to do their part in actively participating in our democracy. And this blog is my way to try to take part in the process myself; to encourage anybody who is still undecided about this election to help us take advantage of this great opportunity and vote for Barack Obama. Those people who are already planning on voting for Obama, PLEASE make sure you get to the polls and vote, you imagine explaining to your children that you missed out on the biggest vote in American history because you were just too busy on election day. I encourage everybody in these last few days to actively engage in the debate, talk politics damn it, that's democracy in action. I'm not talking about being nasty or spiteful, I just ask you to mull over for yourself whether or not you agree that Hughes' words still ring true today, that America hasn't achieved it's dream yet. Then ask yourself who you think is the President who can lead America to be America.