Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Weekend in Maine: A Letter for My Father



FRIDAY, May 30

I almost changed my mind.

When I walked up to the Augusta Convention Center and saw all the campaign signs and professionally printed flyers plastered on all the entrance doors, the makeshift nametag I'd thrown together using clear packing tape, Glue Stic and an old name tag holder from a Book Expo years ago seemed totally inadequate. What did I think I was running for, anyway? Student council president?

No way could I compete with any of this. I'd had no idea what to expect, and I surely didn't expect this. Perhaps my quest to get elected as a national delegate to Denver would have to remain a dream. Like the recurring one I have of you walking up our driveway with that look of love always on your face to see the completed renovations, which you never got to see before you left us just over a year ago.

With Memorial Day just last weekend and Father's Day right around the corner, you've been on my mind constantly. I'd been singing Luther's "Dance With My Father" nonstop for most of the week and listened to it on the way to the center to pick up my credentials.

You can do anything you put your mind to.

The line was long. Candidates and exhibitors were pushing buttons and stickers and flashing smiles. After about an hour, when I finally neared the registration table, a very loud, "How many of you were Jesse Jackson delegates back in 1988?" broke through the voices of doubt spinning in my head.

The man who shouted the question was about 60-years-old, heavyset with a rose-colored face and white mustache. He sounded like Rush Limbaugh.

Behind me, a man said that the Democrats always have to make it hard on themselves. "We're gonna put up a black man or a woman. I don't know if either of them can win. But if one of them can, Barack can. I just don't think the country wants another Clinton."

Amen.



Walking around the huge building, proudly sporting my credentials like a gold medal, it became clearer how unprepared I was. My inkjet-printed handouts weren't going to cut it. Even though my name would be on the ballot, there was no way any of my efforts before noon the next day would be enough. May as well forget about campaigning altogether.

But what about all the time I'd already put into my candidacy? All the effort getting the signatures for my nominating petition? I couldn't waste all that could I? I guess not.

Lucky to live 15 minutes from the convention center, I begrudgingly decided to drive back home, redesign and print out my handouts. If they couldn't be slick, they could at least be better.

On the way out, I passed the two Obama field organizers who'd been staying with us since last Thursday.

"Craig, did you see the delegate booklet?" the woman of the couple asked.

Tracie, an Obama delegate and candidate for the national delegation and presidential elector, had put out a call a few days ago for short profiles of the Obama delegates running for something over the weekend. I'd submitted my profile more than three hours late and assumed I'd missed that boat. Apparently not.

"I read your profile and it's gotten very good feedback," the field organizer said.

That was encouraging. I'd decided to scrap the well-recommended format of filling in the blanks after Describe Yourself, Obama Experience, Political Experience, and Why I'm Running and used my 250-word limit to write this instead:

Seems to me—author, artist, activist, blogger, poet, farmer, and bed & breakfast host—that many of us don't need anyone to tell us who Barack Obama is. We can research his record on our own. We can compare his positions now to what they were before he announced his candidacy. We can understand that he might fail as president. We can equally understand that he might be a great leader.

For many of us, it's not about ideology or experience at this point.

It's about hope. People like to dismiss hope, but hope is powerful.

And it scares the crap out of people. I mean: really. What would happen if a new majority actually came to pass? What would happen if we became a nation that cared for the health and well-being of all our citizens no matter race, religion, region, gender, sexuality, class or any other label that divides us? What would happen if our trust for our elected officials increased because they became transparent and open and honest? What would happen if we improve diplomacy with other nations, if the perception of us in the eyes of those who want to destroy us improves?

That's pretty scary stuff. But courage doesn't exist in the absence of fear.

No risk; no reward. It appears a throng of Americans is willing to take a risk by believing in hope and showing the courage to cast a vote for Barack.

A vote for Craig Hickman is a vote for Barack Obama.

Included was a headshot way before the dreadlocks. It's all I could find on short notice.

Very good feedback. And the delegate booklet would be available for free to everyone attending the convention.

In that moment, hearing those words, I believed I could do this. And then I could've sworn I heard your words. The ones you repeated to me everyday when I was little.

You can do anything you put your mind to.

So I made up my mind to do it.

:: ::



I plastered the place, Daddy. Turned myself into a walking billboard. Had to call Job to bring me the flyers I didn't have time to cut before I rushed back so I could campaign during the opening ceremonies.



Job misses you as much as I do. He talks often about you calling me and asking "How's Job?" as soon as I picked up the phone. About how you always called him your son.

I remember how you were there for us during one of our roughest patches. Reminded us that we were all we had so we better stay by each other's sides no matter what.

He's one of the main reasons why I paid any attention to Barack in the first place. He helped awaken me from political slumber. And here he is helping me in my quest to go to Denver.

You'd be happy.




Gwethalyn Phillips, our add-on superdelegate


Adam Cote, 1st District Candidate

Later, at the welcome reception the Obama campaign arranged for our state delegation, I had a margarita and geared up for a fullscale charm offensive.

"When are we gonna get outta the war!"

It was the heavyset man with the rose-colored face and Rush Limbaugh voice again. Another cry out of nowhere that silenced the room for a moment. He was no joke.

By the end of the night, several delegates in a few other counties in the first district said they'd help spread the word at their caucuses tomorrow.

When I returned home, all the delegates we were expecting had arrived at the house. We donated all the rooms at the B&B to the campaign and had a house full of Obama people from around the state.

Job said he told them if they didn't vote for me, provided they could, and help me distrubute flyers Saturday morning then they couldn't stay over.

Politics is vicious.

::

Saturday, May 31

Mustard-brown leather pants. Totally inappropriate at 6:00 am, no? Which is exactly why I chose to wear them. County caucuses were scheduled to start at noon. I had a small window to make a big impression. I needed people wondering who the hell the guy in the inappropriate pants was and I didn't think my dreadlocks would be enough.

Another Obama delegate reception was scheduled for 7:30 am. I planted myself near the entrance and begged for votes. After a few welcoming remarks and a Q&A, the field organizer opened the floor to the candidates.




Candidates wait to address Obama delegation

When it was my turn, I told the people I was a poet, not a politician and then I performed my poem "Field Trip." Totally messed up the beginning. Hadn't delivered the piece in years and had the audacity to hope I could pull it off without incident.

No one seemed to notice the blunder. I finished strongly and ceded the stage. From the room's response, I suspected people would spread the word throughout the morning.

With the help of many folks I didn't know, and a few I had come to know, including our own Colleen, word got around.

Sometimes it's a good thing when people talk about you behind your back.

:: ::

I summoned Job to the convention center around 8:30 am to help me campaign. He's tall and handsome and charming without trying to be. He can stand in one spot and people come up to him without his asking. He told everyone to whom he handed a handout that he was my husband and that they needed to send me to Denver because he needed a break. Needed to enjoy the house all to himself for a few days. He said most of the delegates, especially the men, laughed and said they'd definitely vote for me.

Whatever works.

:: ::

The Barack Obama floor show was otherworldly. Like nothing I've ever before been a part of.









What seemed like a multitude of supporters gathered at the back of the auditorium. When Barack's short video ended, we marched down three aisles toward the podium, signs held aloft, chanting, chanting, chanting...

YES WE CAN. YES WE CAN. YES WE CAN. YES WE CAN.

O-BA-MA. O-BA-MA. O-BA-MA. O-BA-MA. O-BA-MA. O-BA-MA.






The handsome man, you know how bad I am with names, who spoke on Barack's behalf gave such a fiery speech, the multitude of cheers lifted the roof off the joint.

It was like an altar call in a Pentecostal church. But Barack wasn't even present, so the vortex of energy that tingled in my bones wasn't about him. It was all about us.

I know you were right there with me.

:: ::

"Are you supporting him just because he's black?"

This from a Hillary supporter who had previously called me the happiest Obamaniac she'd seen as I campaigned throughout the building. I swear I saw her everywhere I went.

And then out of the blue, she pitched her poison.

I didn't swing. Except to say that there was nothing she could say to pick a fight with me. Her comrade interjected, "We don't even know where he came from."

"I know. It's too bad that you don't."

"If he's a Muslim, he shouldn't try to hide it," barked another who immediately turned her back to me after barking.

And here I thought this was a Democratic convention.



These two cheered me right back up.

:: ::

I tried to ask a few questions of US senatorial candidate Tom Allen, but he was all talking points and little personality, moving about the crowd as if he was in a hurry to get somewhere.

Not at all like his primary opponent Tom Ledue. The other Tom was warm and engaging, taking the time to answer all my questions. And he never took his eyes off mine.

The other Tom won't get the nomination since the party has already anointed Allen. But Ledue will get my vote in the primary because I know I can vote for Allen in the general.

And that's when it hit me. Despite the silliness from those Hillary supporters earlier in the day, I would bet that a slew of the votes she's received since this nomination has been all but wishful thinking for her campaign, which was right after Wisconsin from where I sit, were cast by voters who'd already accepted she wasn't going to win.

Despite the (over) analysis and speculation by the chatterati, primary results since Pennsylvania might reflect the pure simplicity of this logic. Why not pull the lever for the losing candidate now and the winning candidate later? Then you get to say you supported both of them. A win-win.

:: ::

It was just past noon. I'd handed out all my flyers. It's time for the county cuacuses, right?

Wrong.

There were major problems with credentials. Apparently, the information in the database was messed up. Alternates couldn't be upgraded to delegates until the problems were solved.



While we waited, one of my neighbors showed me a money clip with the relief of a Ku Klux Klan member. She'd purchased it at an antique shop in our town. She had challenged the shopkeeper for selling such a thing in the first place.

Tina said the shopkeeper dismissed her complaints by citing the image as a simple historical reference. I asked her to let me have it so I could take it back to the shopkeeper and challenge him about it myself.

She obliged.

I thought of the stories you shared about the lynchings you witnessed in Tennessee before you went off to war. The ones you witnessed when you returned. Before you migrated north to Milwaukee and met Mama in 1946.

I sit thinking of all this while waiting to state my preference for Barack Obama, the next President of the United States, the son of an African man and a white woman from Kansas. A man who, in your day, would have been considered the son of miscegenation.

I'd love to see the look on your face right now.

More than three hours later, the Kennebec County caucus began. By then, the room was muggy and hot and...

"When are we gonna get out of the war!"

The heavyset man with the rose-colored face and Rush Limbaugh voice.

There was more technical drama before we could sign and cast our ballots for presidential preference. During this process, Rita, the caucus chair, decided to allow candidates an opportunity to make their cases. She and I were the only two candidates from the county on the ballot for our district, but she had already given her stump speech for DNC position, so she called me forward do my thing.

The second time felt much better. I didn't mess up the beginning. The language seemed to come from some other dimension. I almost didn't recognize my own voice.

I returned to my seat. I was full with emotion. Just as I felt like I might lose it, Tina said, "Wow. Performance art as campaign."

They loved it, Dad.

Performance art as campaign.

That struck a deep chord.

Afterall, it was you who encouraged me to think big, to go to Harvard, to get a degree in government, to pursue a career in law and politics. It was you who arranged my first government internship during my first summer home from college. You knew it was my passion but I found out the stage was my calling. And now we've come full circle. Performance art is the only way I know to campaign for national delegate to elect as the Democratic nominee for President a man who received his law degree the year after I graduated from the same university.

Poetry.

I don't have to imagine how proud you'd be. I never had to imagine that. You always let me know.



"Do you know Bobby Rush?" The heavyset man with the rose-colored face and Rush Limbaugh voice stood over me.

"I know who he is."

"I knew him back when I lived in Chicago. Knew Barack, too. Jesse Jackson. Some of the other Chicago politicos."

His name is Roger. And like Rush, it turns out he's got a radio talk show. Radio Free Maine. He continued, "I moved out here with my wife. It was her turn to pursue her career. Now we're divorced. Isn't that how it always goes?" A roar of laughter emerged from his round gut. "That was some poem. I'll send you to Denver."

:: ::

I missed the first half of Senator Dick Durbin's keynote. Partly because we were so behind schedule I lost track of time. Mostly because when I finally arrived in the auditorium, an enthusiastic black man who, in one long run-on sentence, welcomed me into the Democrtic party, urged me to stay with it, and outlined the problems the state committee seemed to have with the power of the grassroots efforts, which earned Barack a blowout in our caucus back in February.

A crash course in race, class, and insider politics in Maine.

Senator Durbin received thunderous applause when he reminded us that he was the one who encouraged Barack to run now, that he was the only Senator who endorsed Barack for nearly a year since the announcement.

Tired as a mule, my whole body aching, I forced myself to stay for the keynote reception.

There, a black woman in line for the bar told me she and her husband had voted for me. I recognized her from the registration line earlier in the day where I stood and begged for votes from every Obama delegate who passed by.

Turns out she and her husband had moved to Portland within the last five years from Chicago. She said they used to live next door to Barack.



As we spoke, the ballots were being tabulated. I was beginning to like my chances.

Senator Durbin walked in. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw me approach while he was talking to a circle of people. After the woman to whom he presently spoke made it clear she was finished, he held out his hand and asked me who I was. I told him. We shook hands. I thanked him for his vote against the war, for his mentoring of Barack, for encouraging him to run for President now. He posed for a picture.

You would've loved him, Daddy.

Later, when he was walking by me in a small crowd of people, he acknowledged me by my first name and went back to his conversation.



A true mensch.

When I returned home after midnight, three of our guests were still awake in the living room talking about Barack.

I slept for the first time all week.

::

Sunday, June 1

County caucuses didn't reconvene till 9:00 am so I had a few moments to update my tennis blog. We're right in the middle of the French Open.

I arrived at the conference center a little after nine. I figured we'd hear about the results of the district level elections in caucus, but when I walked into the lobby, a woman whose face I didn't recognize said "Congratulations" as I walked by.

Surely she wasn't talking to me.

Before I could turn to find out, the wife of one of the district level candidates from Cumberland County rushed over to me with her arms outstretched and shouted, "You won! You're going to Denver!"

We embraced. Her husband won too. I asked her how she knew.

"The results are right here." She ushered me over to a board that I'd walked right by.



I saw Tracie's name. I was happy. Without her booklet...

I saw my name. I was in awe. Quite frankly, I still am. Which was what I told all my friends at the Daily Kos sometime between then and now.

I'm going to Denver!

The man whose wife I embraced is going to be my roommate.

Of course I already called everybody. Mama's thrilled. So's your daughter who'll always be your little girl. Job got all emotional. I wanted to talk to you over the phone too but, alas...


How I'd love, love, love to dance with my father again.

You can do anything you put your mind to.

Yes, I can.



Thank you, Daddy.

12 comments:

dangermarc said...

You have a way with words, Craig.

Craig Hickman said...

Thank you, Marc.

Inspiration is a wonderful thing.

Ms.Martin said...

Craig

What a wonderful letter and what a wonderful opportunity.

I wish I could be so connected to the campaign because I believe in it as much as you do even though recent events have taken me off message.

Congratulations.

TruthSeeker said...

Congratulations again. This was very moving.

Craig Hickman said...

Thanks, ms.martin and truthseeker.

One voice can change the world.

Elize said...

Congratulations!

your journey is a journey of inspiration, faith, trust and optimism, thank you for sharing.

your proud niece

GoldenAh said...

Thank you for writing this. Awesome. Made me choke up. You are a fantastic writer. Good luck to you.

evita said...

I shed tears of joys for you an your father. You make us all proud!

[Not sure about the mustard colored leather pants though.]

Craig Hickman said...

Thanks, evita.

The pants aren't as bad as they sound.

You can catch a glimpse of them here

Craig Hickman said...

Hallo nichtje.

Dank je wel voor je worden.

Val said...

Thanks for sharing your letter and experiences Craig. I really enjoyed it.

Congratulations and Blessings to you and yours.
:-)

honey01 said...

Craig this is beautiful and moving first account. Thank you so very much. You are an inspiration.