A Glorious Morning to Commit to Making Changes in Our Lives

Like so many people across the United States and throughout the world, I am filled with energy and joy and wonder this morning. I wish my father had lived to see this day. I wish Barack Obama’s grandmother had lived to see this day. What a moment.

yes we can

We CAN transform ourselves; we CAN take responsibility and work for a better world. I live in Vermont, a state that in some ways has come to represent progressive ideals and civic engagement–our town meetings are still alive; I can run into the governor in the movie theater; our federal judge sells his daughter’s goat cheese at the farmer’s market on Saturdays. Yes, I’m proud of Vermonters, again.

But, wow, look at what happened in places where people do not feel so connected to those in power, in places where it is not so easy to participate, to feel included, to have a voice, a say. If a country as divided and diverse as ours can come together like this and demand real change across the political landscape, we can and must do it in our own backyards, our neighborhoods, our towns, our schools, our states by doing more than going to the polls–by participating actively in civic life, by speaking up and by listening to our neighbors, by moving beyond our own personal concerns and needs and wants and building a real conservation ethic.

Sentiments like these spill out effortlessly into this post. I am getting used to writing about politics. Words are easy. Some actions are easy. It was easy, for instance, to get involved in the campaign. It is hard to make the real changes necessary to healing this deeply wounded earth, this damaged world. But I saw something so hopeful while making calls for the campaign–how lonely some people were –how alone in their homes, some of them shut-ins, clearly—and yet how excited they were to be a part of something bigger than themselves. What courage.

I’m making a change in my own life because of those calls. With my daughter, I used to volunteer for Meals-on-Wheels, delivering daily meals to shut-ins across our town. And then I stopped because my busy work schedule didn’t allow for my consistent participation a couple of days a week; more and more the ways I contribute to my community are abstract and distanced, through being on advisory boards to nonprofits, writing and talking, moving out of an elite college to work in small rural communities. But how often do I just roll my sleeves up and do hands-on service in my own community besides being on committees, offering workshops? Time to get to work.

bristol, vermont nearing peak foliage

Yesterday while canvassing in my childhood state, New Hampshire, I was shocked by how almost almost unrecognizable it was to me. I grew up when it was one of the most right-wing states in the nation and yet so important to the candidacy of democrats running for president. My parents were actively involved in the primaries; during election season, we often had candidates in our home. The first vote I ever cast was for my mother when she ran for the state legislature (and won) as a Democrat, a woman(!) in a sea of reactionary white men.

Yesterday when a small group of us stood at a busy intersection waving our signs and our arms, we were amazed by the response: so many waves, so many honks from all kinds of people in all kinds of cars–old and young, truckers and Prius drivers, women with children in mini-vans, disabled vets in their vans. We found ourselves nearly silly with hope. We returned home to Vermont, a state that we knew would go overwhelmingly to Obama, with the very real sense that our neighbors would join us.

At a busy intersection

And it wasn’t just New Hampshire that seemed transformed. Young people, too. The numbers of students in that NH campaign office and campaigning here in Vermont, the deep interest my daughters showed in the process and their eagerness to participate seemed so very different from anything I had seen in twenty years as a college teacher. These young people were thinking about the world beyond themselves.

To hear my daughters’ excited voices on the phone (ages 22 and 19) when the news of Obama’s victory broke–to know their political awakening was such a joyful one–gives me great hope about their generation. One daughter, who works in the heart of Wall Street, believing that change can come from within, sent me all kinds of things to post to the Smalltown Mamas (and Papas) for Obama blog. The other daughter, still in college, contributed actively to the blog and the campaign, sending whatever money she could and making calls to Ohio. For them to hear not just the news that Obama had won and to feel the vibrations of those around-the-world celebrations, but also Obama telling us that the road ahead is long and difficult, that we all need to do our part to clean up the mess, to heal the earth’s wounds, to bring about peace, was critical. They know that it is up to them, to us, to make small and big changes, to educate ourselves about the issues facing us, to contribute our own creative thinking to solution-making, not to wait for someone else to tell us what to do, to move beyond our own self-centered-ness.

Easy to write. But what to do? This first day?

My personal plan is to devote a good portion of each day to rolling my sleeves up:

in my home (more bike-commuting, more energy efficiency in the house, more conserving and recycling and composting, more time spent connecting with my extended family);

in my civic life (more hours in the community contributing in whatever way I can, an even more concerted effort to support local merchants and manufacturers and avoid chains, attending more community functions);

in my creative contributions (thinking even more creatively about the new nonprofit, the advising for other groups, my blogging here; speaking out boldly while learning to listen better).

first fall dawn

Yes we can. WE.

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7 Responses

  1. […] A Glorious Morning to Commit to Making Change Posted on November 5, 2008 by bgblogging (crossposted at bgblogging) […]

  2. I like Obama as much as the next person, but this:

    “If a country as divided and diverse as ours can come together like this”

    ? Huh? We came together? When Obama only won 52% of the popular vote? That means that nearly half of the country did not get the president they wanted – or the values they agree with in power. I said this in 2000 & 2004, and I say it now – winning a slight majority in politics is not a good win. It is a cause for deep concern.

    And I’m looking through Google News, and it seems like a majority of all congressional incumbents won their seat. How is that change?

    We should rejoice at the history that was made, but even the history maker himself accepted the victory with humility and somberness. What really saddens me is that so may people that gnashed their teeth at the Republicans for gloating in 2000 & 2004 are now gloating even worse.

    I used to publicly say that I was pretty independent, but would admit that Democrats had better character than Republicans in general. I repent of that generalization – I have seen bad in both parties. And some good…. but that seems to be decreasing on both fronts. Take, for instance, how the Democrats are still pointing fingers at the Bush administration for the recession, when 20/20 clearly called them out a few weeks ago and proved how Democratic economic policies actually caused the recession. Democratic policies pushed by the current Congress (and Bush, sadly) – the majority of whom are still in power.

    Once again, I am happy with Obama, but still very sickened by both Democrats and Republicans in general. I won’t judge individuals based on their party line. But I also pray that the Democrats will actually learn from their leader. But true change will come in this country when we finally get rid of our sad two-party system.

    I really, really, truly hope that Obama can do what no president has done in a couple of decades and get Congress to start making better decisions. To quote Mulder: I want to believe. I am just afraid they are going to do what they did in the last four years, screw everything up, and then heap the blame on the president (Bush was messing up enough without the help of Congress). That means we will be right back here again in 4 years with a new president and another round of renewed hope.

  3. Matt,

    You are right, perhaps, to scold me for getting carried away with language, and I was basing my statement on something I witnessed in one small place, New Hampshire. But there I did see an unusual cross-section of people pouring into the polls, who gave us every indication that they were voting for Obama. And Obama’s percentage of the popular vote is not at all as dire as you say. Even in Reagan’s landslide, he won only 58.8% of the vote. In 1988, Bush= 53.4%. Clinton won 43%. Obama has won more of the popular vote than any Democratic candidate since LBJ trounced Barry Goldwater.

    Who is gloating? I am excited. Obama faces an almost insurmountable task. What a horrendous time to become president. I am talking about each of taking responsibility to create the much needed change. I see this as an opportunity to get off our high horses and down to work.

    And about the horror of politicians. Yeah. I hear you. I’m lucky enough to come from a state that is proud of its Senators Leahy and Sanders and Congressman Welch (and before that Jim Jeffords and Robert Stafford). If it can happen here, it can happen elsewhere. Dems did pick up seats.

    There’s bad everywhere. And good. I’m turning towards the good.

    bg

  4. I’m turning towards the good, too. I’m choosing to ignore, for the moment, the fact that Californians just voted to constitutionally ban gay marriage, and that my father’s democratic candidate in Oregon is fighting for his life in what should be a no-brainer election, and that Sarah Palin is still out there, waiting, reloading. And here is why:

    There were many times during this campaign I almost posted to this blog. Almost, but not quite. Firstly, when Palin was seeming to gain ground with a certain section of the American electorate. For someone who found the choice an even split between laughable and insulting, I was shocked to see not everyone agreed with me. I began a draft of a post about how someone can be created from thin air (I began again months later with Joe the Plumber), but something held me back. And soon, America became less and less enchanted with Caribou Barbie every time she opened her mouth, so the point seemed moot.
    I almost posted when I saw a news report that Polar Bears are resorting to cannibalism. What did this have to do with the election? Besides the obvious ties to failed environmental policies (or lack thereof), it also seemed an apt metaphor. Again, however, I could not write.
    I nearly posted an end-of-days suggestion to the readers of this blog before McCain began to slip in the polls. What if every Obama supporter – should McCain win – purchase a one-way ticket out of the country the day after the election? Would the message be clear then?
    I wanted to post after the four debates, pointing out the difference in the candidates’ “performances.” As an actor, this happens to be my specialty, telling when someone is not selling a character: they blink a lot (McCain), they seem to physically seize when the script won’t come to them (McCain), they forget the power of their voice, resorting to monotonic incantations resembling a parrot (McCain), and, finally, they break the one cardinal rule of good acting: listening (Palin). Yet, even here, where I truly felt I had something to contribute, I did not. Could not. And this bothered me.

    But all throughout yesterday, I began to understand why. I was too cynical. I awoke yesterday morning excited in ways I had not been in a very long time. I filled out my voter booklet, and walked to my polling station, enjoying the warm California morning. I didn’t begrudge a minute of the twenty I spent in line, and I made sure to punch my ballot extra hard, even making the table quiver each time I pressed down. I handed my ballot to the black female volunteer, thanked her for her service, and walked back home, smiling and nodding to everyone I passed. Then, the strangest thing happened: I fell back asleep. For an hour and a half. My excitement had exhausted me. When I awoke, I began preparing for an election party I was hosting. I printed out Obama quotes and passages from “The Audacity of Hope” and hung them up around the house. I copied electoral maps and had my friends guess which states would go red or blue respectively. I made hot dogs and put out the leftover American Halloween candy. Yet, even with all my excitement, I still did not believe he could win.
    Then, almost immediately after 8PM PST, the news came in: it was over. And it was just beginning.
    We were not prepared for this. I mean, we’d started the party at 7, convinced we’d be up until 4 or 5 in the morning. And McCain conceded and Obama spoke and the faces of the people in the Chicago crowd said it all. And then, a good friend of ours came to our door, running late from a night class for his masters in Academic Counseling. He is sixty years old; he is from Norristown, PA; and he is black. His look of surreal disbelief, of a lifetime of promises come due, jolted me. On the couch he joined his wife, an Argentinean by birth who just became a citizen this year. This was her first election, not only in the US but anywhere, as she left Argentina before she was legally allowed to vote. For so many people, this was personally a watermark election; for our country, it was a victory over cynicism.

    I know this because I am cynical. I come from a long line of Irish politicians, and my cynicism is a result of both nature and nurture. In short, I’m the cynic people like Oprah and Rick Warren just walk away from. Sure I donated money and time to the election, but the cold hard truth is I never donated my heart. Because I was sure we were going to get kicked in the head again and I didn’t think I could survive it. Many people don’t understand this sentiment from young people. “What could you possibly know about cynicism, about disappointment?” Well, eight years of Bush – our most formative years, mind you – will do that. And before him? There was Clinton, who was a president to be proud of, who was simultaneously accessible and inspiring; but Clinton’s “betrayal” (as pointless and irrelevant as it may seem now) came at a time when people my age were just learning about moral matters and the insidiousness of lies. To be disappointed at fourteen, and then have that followed up by eight years of frustration is essentially the recipe for cynicism. But this election has proved something to me. And now I’m blogging because I have something to say that needs to be immortalized in print. I am blogging, selfishly, because I want a record of this moment, a standard to hold myself to in the future when Obama does something to disappoint me, and the Republicans win another election, no matter when that may be: I am done with cynicism.

    I’m all about realism, and pragmatism, and a healthy dose of skepticism every now and then, but cynicism and me, we’re through. Cynicism is an insidious mistress because it cannot be contained. One cannot simply be cynical about politics, or, I don’t know, vegetarianism exclusively. If one is cynical, one is cynical about politics, AND vegetarianism, AND humanism, AND, most regrettably, love. This is what I feel Obama’s victory has restored in me, a sense that all is possible, whether it happens or not. That’s the mistake of cynicism: it confuses probability with inevitability.
    And my newfound faith is not based on intangibles or abstract self-delusion, but on facts: the tears of pride last night in the eyes of Jesse Jackson and my friend who never thought they’d see this day; in the celebrations around the globe among people who still see America as the city on the hill, even if we no longer saw ourselves that way; in the cries and horn honks that filled the streets of LA and other cities sometime after 8PM last night; in – as ridiculous as this may sound – the facebook statuses of friends who are just as disbelieving and proud as I; and especially in the way my 83 year-old grandfather’s voice broke when he joked to me last night that he can finally pull his American flag out of storage and fly it – and his admission that he never thought he’d live to see it wave outside his house again.
    Well, it IS waving again, and proudly. And last night, with the Santa Ana’s blowing winds of change across the Southland, I fell asleep to the faint sound of the flagpole down the street clanking. A sound that used to annoy me now ushered me into a dreamscape; one that I wasn’t sorry to wake up from this morning.

  5. […] slow-blogging variety (though she does not link out). Whenever she comments, I wish she had a blog. Yesterday she left me a comment on my post reflecting on the Obama victory, and in it she describes the roots of her cynicism and how she, too, is turning towards hope. It is […]

  6. Your thoughts are always expressed so beautifully, and enhanced by your evocative photos. I may start copying that technique! I love the way you’ve divided your responsibilities into categories. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. The fear I have now, is that we will easily revert to old ways, similar to what we do with New Year’s resolutions. I never do resolutions, because it seems to me, if you really need to make a change, it should happen as soon as you know it needs to change. But I also know how hard it will be to change my habits. Another problem I have is that I’m not certain I believe in altruism. Personally, when I give, I do it because it makes me feel good. Sure, I care about others, but, in the end, I just like the way it makes me feel about myself. Because I am aware of that fault, I rarely talk about my giving. I’m afraid it will simply inflate the flaws in my motives. I recognize the importance of passing on the change message, but I’m not sure how best to do it. I’ll be following you!

  7. […] fame.  As is my habit, I searched through her blog and found several wonderful pieces, including this reflective piece on the morning after the election.  If you like thoughtful writing, Vermont, beautiful photographs and more, you may want to […]

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