Wednesday, March 19, 2008

November is irrelevant

I've been thinking a lot about politics and how things happen. I've been thinking that in the political world, long-term plans are made. Nothing happens in a year or two. Most often the people who are elected to offices start planning these things decades before.

For instance, I've believed for a while now that Hillary Clinton has been planning to run for president for a very, very, very long time. I believe that Bill Clinton's political career was orchestrated by Hillary so that she could eventually launch her own career. This belief has been confirmed for me by hearing a number of Clinton supporters talking about how, internationally, women have come into positions of political power by being tied to husbands and fathers who were in power first.

But, it's not just Hillary. I think many, many political decisions are long-term and rather intricate. The other day, before David Paterson was sworn in as Governor of New York, I was listening to reporters discussing some of the wrenches that ex-governor Spitzer's scandal had thrown into the political works. One is that Spitzer was a Super Delegate committed to Clinton - and now loses that status - and thus the vote that goes with it. The other was that apparently there was a plan in place for Paterson to become the next Senator from NY if Clinton's Presidential aspirations come to fruition.

Plans...lots of plans...long-term plans. Plans are going on now for elections that will happen 4, 8, 12, 20 years from now. People we've never even heard of are making plans to be Governors and Senators and President.

And when I think of it that way, the pessimistic side of me (which I am on a mission to silence) says that nothing we do makes a difference. There are people who are planning things - things that most of us don't know about or understand. And those plans will go through whether we want them to or not. Certainly George Bush's first term as President is proof of that.

And yet - sometimes - no matter how well thought out they are, plans go awry. The plan was for Clinton to sweep Super Tuesday and grab the nomination. But that didn't happen. And part of that was because there is an exception to every rule and Barack Obama is that exception.

Not that Obama hasn't planned. Clearly, he has. His speeches, his poise, his books, his life and lifestyle are not accidents. That's all good planning. But I don't think the plan - on his part or any political planners part - was for him to get the nomination this time around. I think the plan was for him to run a decent campaign - get out in front of the voters - get known and then kick butt in 4 or 8 years. I think that was the plan. No one expected that he would become the movement that he has. And now there's a scramble to make him more of a man and less of a movement.

I hope that the people who plan, the powers that be, can adjust and bring him through - because otherwise, I'm afraid that there are some hard times ahead for this country. There will be a few years of cynicism and doubt. Many Black people, in particular, are likely to feel beat down and bereft and to walk away from politics in general and the Democratic party in particular.

But, ultimately, I'm not sure it matters. Yesterday, I thought it mattered. Yesterday I was scared about the huge numbers of Black people I know who are willing to vote Republican - to vote for John McCain if Obama isn't nominated. Putting McCain in the White House was a frightening prospect to me. Not just because of McCain himself - who has enough scary views to keep me from ever voting for him. But for fear of the people behind McCain. For fear of who will be his running mate. Because, you know a scary-ass Huckabee type is likely to get that spot to appease social conservatives. And McCain is so freaking old, and with his history of melanoma there is a strong chance that his running mate could wind up finishing his term.

So, yesterday I was worried. Worried about the Democratic party which is dancing on a very thin wire right now and could fall and shatter into a million pieces that will be almost impossible to put back together again. Worried about Black people, who carry a pessimism that is almost impenetrable - but Obama has been getting through that armor in ways that no one since King has - and I feared that if those little openings in the armor close back up they will never be penetrated again. Worried about white people too - who in recent years seemed to be coming back to feeling almost comfortable with their own racism - as long as they did it politely. But Obama was showing the potential to challenge and shatter that as well.

When Ferrarro came out with her comments, I got really worried. Worried that all that had happened up to this point was about to crumble down. That white people were really willing to embrace their racist attitudes that much, and that Black people would see it as a sign that nothing has changed and nothing will change and would just give up. This is how I felt yesterday morning. And the optimist in me (who I am exerting much effort in nurturing) was determinedly arguing against those worries - clinging to the Hope Obama had already inspired and refusing to believe that things could really go so wrong.

And then Barack Obama opened his mouth again. And something bigger than hope took hold of me. I sat on my bed last night with Spice's feverish little body pressed up against my side, and Sugar sitting next to us reading, and I watched Obama's speech on MSNBC and of course I was, as usual, impressed with his command of words and ideas. In college I took a public speaking course and wrote a few good speeches and had, for a hot moment, aspirations of being a speech writer - so his speeches really ring a note for me. Listening to his speeches, frequently, elicits the same kind of reaction from me as when I read a Toni Morrison novel - there are moment when I think nothing more than, "Wow! I wish I wrote that!"

But it wasn't the desire to be a better writer that washed over me while watching Obama speak. It was the desire to be a better person.

I heard him talking about the anger and frustration that grips many Black people, and I knew that I've felt that anger and frustration. I heard him talk about the negativity that lives beside compassion and intelligence in Pastor Wright - and I know that negativity resides within me as well. But up until last night I felt entitled to that negativity, anger and frustration. I felt that those emotions were my birthright.

I earned them in every prejudiced, discriminatory or racist situation I faced throughout my life. And I held onto those negative feelings like a badge of honor. They were my admission to the club. As a light-skinned Black woman who grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood - my "Blackness" has been questioned my whole life. From well-meaning, but sadly deluded white people - "I don't think of you as REALLY Black." And from angry, misguided Black people - "You think you're White, but you're not better than me." But, as that anger and resentment, negativity and frustration grew within me over the years it became the authenticator of my "Blackness."

There's no accident that there are so many blogs out there whose names combine the words "angry" and "black." Anger and "Blackness" seem to go hand in hand in the minds of many Black people and others. And it's almost noble to embrace one's anger as a Black person. I know I'd cultivated my anger and then held onto it for dear life.

But last night - listening to Obama - I suddenly didn't want that anger anymore. I saw how it not only poisons me - but how it is like a giant lump in the throat of our country. No one can take a deep breath because we've got all this race-based anger and resentment built up. And it's not just Black people - everyone has it. And here is this man - this candidate for President - breaking it down for everyone. Speaking direct and true about it - from a personal place.

But not just speaking about it. Not just saying, "This is how it is, too bad." No he's speaking about it and challenging each and every one of us to change. And not just challenging us to change - somehow he sparks the desire to change. He makes you want to do something. He makes you want to look at yourself and say, "I can do better than this. I can BE better than this. I AM better than this."

Now that's not a quality that everyone has. In fact, I would venture to say the ability to inspire and motivate people is a rare one. You know there's maybe a few people around at any given time who can motivate people. Who can really get people up off their butts and get them to do something. But to INSPIRE, to instill positive thoughts and feelings in people, and to motivate as well - now that's something else. To make people want to get up off their butts and DO something GOOD, something different, something BETTER - to inspire and motivate people to want to change - to cultivate the best of what lives inside them - well, that's a quality that I think occurs so rarely in people that it is downright historical whenever anyone with that quality comes into the public eye.

Barack Obama has this quality and nothing - not Hillary Clinton, or John McCain or the Democratic party or Republicans or the religious right or anyone - can keep him from making an impact on this country and on the world that will be remembered throughout history.

Yes, I want Barack Obama to win the Democratic nomination and yes want him to become the next President of the United States. But, I realized, last night, after listening to his speech and then reading the transcript - just so I could wallow around in the beauty of the words - that November doesn't matter.

Whether or not he wins - against Hillary or McCain - he's not going to stop. He can't stop. I believe he is compelled to do something no one else can - to make all of us want to do more. To make us believe that we can do more. To make us believe in our country and in ourselves at a time when we are, really, on the brink of falling apart.

I believe that the best of this country is exactly what makes it the most unique - and what the majority of people are the most afraid of. The fact that we are a country of differences - different ideals, different concepts, different people - ethnically, culturally, sexually, religiously. This is the strength and the beauty of this country. But for too long, too many people have worked to make us fear our differences, to have disdain for those who didn't fit one mold or another. To make us look down on the rest of the world and the difference of those outside of this country.

But their differences are our differences. We are a country made up of people, ideas and religions from around the world. We have blended and melded together in so many different ways that we can no longer even really define ourselves as anything but American. The labels we use - Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Native American - most often mean nothing because we have mixed together in more ways than we are aware of and don't even know the ethnic identity of many of our ancestors. And yet we continue to perceive differences that aren't valid for the sake of rejecting them while ignoring the beauty of differences that do exist.

Barack Obama is handing us all the wonder and perfection of our similarities and differences on a silver platter and imploring, inspiring - all but demanding that we look at them honestly and accept them. He gives us the opportunity to examine the resentments and frustrations we've built up over the years. He challenges us to ask ourselves why we really hold on to those negative feelings. And he provides us with the motivation to release those emotions.

I believe, without a doubt, that if he is elected President in November that this country will go down a path that is different from any it has ever been on - a path that has the potential to help us realize the best of ourselves as individuals and as a nation.

If he is not elected in November - I think we will take an ugly detour. However, I believe that ultimately - as a future President - or in other ways - Barack Obama will lead us to that path.

I don't know that I believe in destiny - don't truly believe that things are pre-determined for us. But I can't help but see that Barack Obama is meant to bring change to this country. The changes he has already wrought cannot be undone. The inspiration he has already instilled can't be drained out of people. The motivation he has already stirred can't be stilled.

He really is the center of a movement - something bigger than himself that uses him and his unique qualities to show us all who we are - the best of who we are. That is something I don't think will stop - no matter what happens in November.


The Bear Maiden said...

Yeah, what I didn't add to my own, rambling post (that took me a while to write and was punctuated by drooling on my keyboard and trying to fight that cold that knocked your ass out) on the subject was the speech inspired me too, to be a better person. I called my little loveflame that same day and told him I love you darlin' with all my heart, and I'm your biggest champion, but I deserve better than this, and I'm going to pursue something else. I know I've done that before, and I waffle, but this was different. For one thing, Obama made *me* stop and think... made me really look at the resentments white folks have, and while it's something I've been aware of, to have someone else make me stop and ruminate is something that always excites me.

It made me realize that's a key component that's missing in Nene, and one I can't live without. That someone makes me stop to think about something...

Tina Rogers said...

My God. How can anyone not listen to this man and FINALLY hear the voice of reason. The voice of what is right. The voice of what our nation should aspire to be. I can not understand how there is a division in the Democratic party and the closeness of this race baffles me. He makes me want to stand up and scream and clap "FINALY". Thank you for posting you thoughts. I visit often.

Yolanda said...

Simply perfect. Thank you for speaking so eloquently what I've been carrying around inside for days now. No matter what happens in November I am forever changed for the better by experiencing a person who will go down in history as one of the greatest speakers and motivators of our time. I never realized or expected to lay down my badge of anger in my lifetime, and now that I have life certainly isn't easier but it sure is a lot sweeter.