Thursday, June 5, 2008

A New Day

40 years ago tonight - mere months after the Dream was shattered in Memphis - Hope was gunned down in a hotel kitchen, losing an entire generation. Over the next decade, the shattered generation scurried back to their respective corners, wallowing in self indulgence, anger, narcissism, and fear of each other and the godless devil across the sea.

I was too young to see what was happening at the time, but the scars and the pain are still real all these years later. Those who cared the most and wanted the most for their country were the most devastated, and have had every cause to look for reasons not to get sucked in again. The bitter fear of disappointment and betrayal is still too stark to confront, and schisms with the other shattered generation factions have hardened beyond healing.

For a new generation, those that have come of age in a time of division and segmentation defined by their elders, who have only seen their leaders define America as a place where those who "look and think like us" deserve a fair share of static or shrinking American dream, who have had leadership defined by those who highlight what we should be afraid of and (more importantly) who is to blame for our fear, we have finally grown up enough to ask "Why?"

Is this intragenerational war without end what we wish for children or our country? Is the Atwaterian/Rovian/Pennian deconstruction of American into progressively smaller groups that can be more easily influenced and brought into conflict with each other the American we aspire to?

Front Row To History

There was a time when attributes like decency, integrity, authenticity, and even intelligence were things that we took for granted in our leaders. With regret and great sadness, we have learned this is no longer the case.

Paradoxically, the profound betrayal of these attributes by our current President has galvanized a nation to question how we got here, and demand a better way. The darkness before the dawn presages the coming light.

After the Iowa Caucuses, we saw the first glimmers of light on the horizon.

As I watched Senator Obama's acceptance speech with my 11 year old daughter, I saw in her eyes the power of words to raise us up. I also saw in her the joyous news that her generation will look at gender and race in a presidential candidate the same way mine looks at religion: something that was a big deal at one point for those older folks, but really doesn't make sense. Dr. King's dream was becoming real before my eyes.

After the South Carolina primary, the glimmer had grown into full light. It was my privilege to vote for Senator Obama Super Tuesday.

Tuesday night, Senator Obama came to Minnesota to declare himself the democratic nominee. A journey that started 400 years ago when the first slaves were brought to our shores, to 221 years after a nation founded on liberty for all men ignored the cancer growing in its soul, to a bloody civil war that excised the cancer but did not heal the soul, and most recently has been churning in a 150 year struggle for basic decency and dignity was finally approaching the end.

The journey's end was made all the more worthy for being focused not on those 400 years of injustices, but rather on reclaiming the American ideal that had been shattered into fragments 40 years before, and restoring the ideal of America for all. By finally fulfilling the promise of America for all Americans, a leader was able to emerge to help us reclaim the ideal of America for all Americans.

The historic import was not lost on my fellow Minnesotans. With 3 days notice, it all came together. Where 60 of us had volunteered to help with the event, 400+ showed up Tuesday. The line to get into the Xcel Center started to build 8 hours before the event in the drizzle, and snaked over 2 miles through downtown St. Paul. The stadium was filled to the rafters with almost 20,000 people, with another 13,000 people outside unable to get in.

Inside the stadium, I was struck by the remarkable joy of those rushing into the arena, and the true diversity of colors, shapes, ages, genders, orientations, and national origins.

I was fortunate to have a spot immediately behind the podium along the rope line. The noise and intensity was that of a rock concert. When the wonderful Will.I.Am "Yes We Can" video was playing on the jumbotron, it was a profound moment that reminded all of us how far we had come.

Obama's speech was respectful, intense, and the crowd shook the foundations of the arena. Afterwards, the Senator and his wife were very gracious as they walked the rope line and shook hands with the crowd.

A little to my left, an older African American woman had worked her way to the rope line. In those eyes I saw a hard won wisdom and a history beyond what I could possibly imagine. As long as I live, I will never forget the Senator and his wife coming off the stage, and Michelle hugging that woman with a loving embrace for the ages.

You Can Blow Out a Candle, But You Can't Blow Out a Fire

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have an exceedingly poor track record of voting for presidential candidates. I am excited that for the first time a candidate I am supporting is the presumptive nominee, and has a more than credible shot at the presidency.

That being said, whether Senator Obama becomes President Obama ultimately is not the real prize. The campaign of 2008 has rekindled passions and expectations for the America we want for ourselves and our children. After 40 years of schism, we are once again rising to our birthright of E Pluribus Unum.

"Change We Can Believe In" is nothing less than the rebirth of the American ideal: many peoples coming together to achieve something larger, and leave something better for those that follow.

Senator Obama may fail or fall short of that ideal, but reclaiming the ideal will not fail.

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