Wednesday, May 14, 2008

(Forty Years Later) Right on!

I missed the Sixties—that is, the political part. I was married in 1967, at nineteen, and my first daughter was born when I was barely twenty. I finished college going part-time because that’s what we could afford; my husband went to law school nights. Our second daughter was born during his final week, in 1972. I am embarrassed to reveal that many times during these years people our parents’ age commented on what a “nice young couple” we were--i.e. we were not like those filthy hippies and anti-war protesters. I’m even more embarrassed to admit that I voted for (AARGH, I can hardly bear to type it…) Richard Nixon. I believed he’d stop the war in Vietnam. Still…

By the time I surfaced a few years later and began to discover my true self, the protests were over. I saw the damage the Sixties had done to our country, to families, to our sense as young people of what was possible. I was left with a lingering sense of regret that I didn’t stand up for what I knew in my heart was right, along with a cynicism about politics so deep and bitter that I could not imagine myself ever truly believing in any presidential candidate that politics produced. Catch 22: anyone who wanted that kind of power had to sell his (or her) soul to get it; thus, by the time made they got to the presidency, they were so indebted to so many people that whatever campaign promises they’d made were way down the list of what they were actually going to attend to. I figured that teaching was my only shot at changing the world for the better—one kid at a time. I still believe that there’s a place in the world where each one of us can make small, significant changes that really matter. I believe, too, that these real, one-to-one encounters with people who need us yield the deepest pleasures human life can offer.

But I think I always knew that something would make me stand up in a larger, more visible (dare I say it…political?) way. I assumed it would be against something; God knows there’s plenty to be against, especially right now. But I found I didn’t have the energy to work actively against something, no matter how wrong I believed it to be. The simple thought of trying overwhelmed me with hopelessness and exhaustion.

It never once occurred to me I’d become a political activist because of something or, even less likely, someone I was for. But a few weeks ago, there I was knocking on doors for Barack Obama in Indianapolis—knocking for hope! Good God. Who’d have thought?

I wasn’t an Obama supporter from the start. I liked Edwards—where he came from, what he stood for, and—mostly—the kind of real toughness and courage he and his wife, Elizabeth, showed, continuing to fight for what they believed despite personal circumstances most of us could only imagine. I liked Obama, too. But he hadn’t been tested, like Edwards had, and I worried about that.

But I turned toward Obama last December, after reading a piece in The Atlantic by Andrew Sullivan.

At the crux of it was the question, “…how do we account for the bitter, brutal tone of American politics?”

And his response.

"The answer lies mainly with the biggest and most influential generation in America: the Baby Boomers. The divide is still--amazingly--between those who fought in Vietnam and those who didn't, and between those who fought and dissented and those who never dissented at all...This is the critical context for the election of 2008. It is an election that holds not only the potential to intensify this cycle of division but to bequeath it to a new generation, one marked by a new war that need not be--that should not be--seen as another Vietnam...If you are an American who yearns finally to get beyond the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation and face today's actual problems, Obama may be your man."

Oh, my God, I thought. He's right. Along with this came the sudden understanding that I knew exactly what would happen if Hillary Clinton became president (Edwards by then having been more or less dispensed with by the press); I also knew exactly what would happen if any of the Republican contenders became president. But I didn't know what would happen if Barack Obama became president. I'm no gambler, but considering the fact that everything America was supposed to stand for was (and continues to be) at stake, I decided that voting for him was worth the risk.

By April, it seemed no risk at all. In fact, voting for Barack Obama seemed the only way out of the ugly morass we Baby Boomers had made of American politics, given our turn. We, meaning me, too--because letting others hijack our generation's dreams for their own motives made me complicit.

So as the Indiana Primary grew near, I hit the streets. A political activist, me.

Right on!


andystardust said...
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andystardust said...

I really liked that Andrew Sullivan article as well. I've brought it up every time I've had one of these "Who are you supporting?" conversations.