Monday, March 03, 2008

A Young Woman Speaks

I LIKE what she says:

He’s been called an empty suit. A hack. A panderer. He’s faced absurd allegations that he has no specific policy initiatives, no meaningful experience, and no fighting spirit. But of all these distortions, the one that galls me the most is the comparison of Barack Obama to a modern-day Pied Piper. You know the story- some guy in a colorful get-up comes to town and lures all the children into the river with nothing more than a catchy melody.

Sound familiar? Well, I understand how Barack Obama’s popularity among young people could be misattributed to a “cult of personality” or a “messianic” campaign. After all, he is pretty darn hip.

But as a young supporter in a sea of other young supporters, I can tell you, we don’t support Obama because he reminds us of that popular guy in high school. Sure, we all loved ‘The Matrix’, but that doesn’t mean we actually believe in “The One”. And even if we did, Barack Obama can’t fly or teleport through phone booths, so that pretty much takes him out of the running. We know Obama is human. We know he can’t be our savior. However, we also know that his policies, message, and world-view represent us. We’ve taken the time to examine his candidacy. And we’re anything but blind followers. To the contrary, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is inspiring a new generation of leaders.

Look at it this way- just as my generation was growing into our political consciousness, our world fell apart. Two weeks after I started high school, I woke up to find my parents standing motionless in front of the television in our living room. Two of our buildings were burning in New York City. In that moment, I couldn’t imagine that the destruction on that screen could be anything but an accident.

A few hours later, I knew better. And the grief began. I grieved for the loss of life, for the loss of innocence, and for thought that my five year-old sister would have to grow up in a time of war.

Just a year later, the build-up to the Iraq War was revving into gear. I was beside myself. Like many young people I knew, I took the time to look into the justification for the occupation, and came out against it. Many of us knew what Barack Obama knew. It was a “dumb war.” A “rash war.” But despite the letter writing, the protests, the organizing, I felt powerless. My generation watched the greatest foreign policy tragedy in our nation’s history unfold before our eyes while being told that we were to young too understand, too young to stop it. Five years later, Americans too young to be dying are still making the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq.

Soon after my high school graduation, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. And then the entire world knew what some Americans have been aware of their entire lives. Race matters. Class matters. Even in America, it can mean life or death. Even in America, poor people with dark skin can be labeled as refugees in their own country. Even in America, a nation can forget quickly. The outrage was universal, but on college campuses, it lingered. Students from the Gulf Coast relocated to our universities. Campus clubs organized community service trips to help rebuild over spring break. Hurricane Katrina remained visible a little longer for us, and the outrage got under our skin.

Try to understand. The events of this new century have affected all Americans. But they have struck to the heart of my generation. When the twin towers fell, our nation came together in healing. But soon after, we rebuilt a bitter reinterpretation of those two towers in our national politics. We became a nation divided. A nation of acidic duality. A traumatized nation with a gulf of uncertainty between every human relationship. And my generation felt this scar running deeply through each of us. The first terrorist attack on American soil occurred at a time when we still viewed our country as some mix between the womb and the ultimate patriarch. Our country was home, it was infallible, it was just and true and loving. But lately we have become orphans of our own idealism. And we are looking within ourselves for a new leader.

This is the true genius in the Obama campaign. Barack Obama is inspiring our better angels, catalyzing our inner healing power. He takes the grief, the sense of powerlessness, the outrage, and inspires us to turn it into hope. We are not Obama followers. We are Obama supporters, and the distinction is important. We are coming into our own, and taking Barack Obama with us. We work to support him because he speaks to the wounds in our identities and in our nation. And he inspires us to help him heal them.

Barack Obama’s ability to inspire is not the only the only thing that attracts us. In a post-9/11 America, we need a leader who has international experience and is willing to communicate for peace, even with leaders whose policies are objectionable. Our generation is more internationally minded than any before us, thanks to the power of the internet. And we know that behind every bad leader is a nation of citizens who would choose peace over destruction if they had the ability.

In the face of a continuing War in Iraq, we need a leader who opposed this war from the beginning. Barack Obama can take that credibility to the international community, whose support we desperately need for a conclusion to this chaos. Because my generation was powerless to stop the Iraq War, we are eager to elect a leader who had the integrity to speak wisdom to power from the very start.

And finally, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we need a leader who understands. A leader whose life story is one of dedication to that cherished American aspiration, equality. Barack Obama is this leader. He overcame obstacles of class, race, and identity to get to where he is today. He has been a community organizer in neighborhoods whose hopes were dreams deferred. He is an expert on the constitution, and knows its wisdom, its limitations, and the potential it holds for this nation. As president, he will take us farther down that winding road that leads to the realization our nation’s original creed- that we are all of us created equal.

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