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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Our Work Has Just Begun

As a little girl, I followed my mother on the campaign trail for Barry Goldwater. She was the head of the Pennsylvania Republican Women, and later on in her political life, she and my father attended the inaugural ball for Richard Nixon. Three Christmas cards from Nixon are still framed and hanging proudly on her wall. Although she despises what Goldwater became, and referred to him as "that old drunk," she still somehow thinks that Nixon was framed.

My mother changed her Canadian citizenship in order to work and vote for Goldwater. Her political roots came from her father, who was a sugar broker in Detroit during the depression, and thus was able to buy a new car every year. He was a staunch Republican, and a Catholic. Meanwhile, my British grandmother, apolitical and Protestant, fed poor men who came to her back kitchen door, and I once found her hiding behind my brothers' bedroom door, sobbing at the death of our pet parakeet.

My grandmother was probably not as apolitical as she appeared. From her position on the couch, with an apple pie in the oven and crossword puzzle on her lap, she sometimes risked a strong opinion or two. She never approved of what she saw as my mother's desire for status, luxury and intellectualism. She was happiest having a simple meal at home or an inexpensive meal at Horn and Hardart's counter, versus my mother's preference for fine dining and shopping at John Wannamaker's or Saks Fifth Avenue in Philadelphia. The gifts she gave me were focused on teaching me how to make things with my hands. She was outnumbered, surrounded by Republicans, as I am now in my own family. And as my mother dismissed her own mother as childish and naive, so she does the same to me now.

I think I was born a Democrat. And I was a stranger in a strange land. But there were also things that attracted me to old-time conservatism, such as fiscal responsibility. I agreed with Republicans of the time, that our elected representatives should be cautious and wise in how they handled "our" money. But as we have seen from 8 years of Neoconservatism, if any party could be the standard bearer for fiscal waste, it would now be the Republicans. The "tax and spend" label they have slapped on Democrats, has lost its glue and just won't stick anymore. With billions poured down the drain in Iraq for an illegal, immoral and completely mismanaged war, with unbridled corruption in no-bid contracts for such behemoths as Dick Cheney's Halliburton, with corporate regulations slashed to the point that greed grew like Kudzu in Alabama, the Republicans have destroyed what once was a conservative standard for their party.

In my early observations of politics, I listened to my parents rail against welfare and so-called entitlement programs. Their vision was always of the shiftless, ignorant poor who did not deserve the elite's hard-earned money. "Get a job!" was not a joke in my family, it was an angry, resentful cry. Even though I know there are lazy human beings, and uneducated human beings the world over, I felt at the time that it was unfair to paint all those in need, with the same broad brush. Even though I had never met any poor people, I couldn't imagine that they were all, each and every one of them, so bad. There had to be people out there that through their own mistakes, or perhaps even through no mistake of their own, had fallen into dire straits. And if my parents' religion was true to its calling, we should be kind and generous to all of those in need, whatever the origin of their circumstances.

"Let the churches and charities take care of those people" was a common dismissal of my questions. And today, as then, churches and charities have played a heroic part in a war against poverty and misery. But a bigger question began to eat at me. Doesn't our government also hold some responsibility for the needy? We can argue this question on economic, philosophical or moral ground until the cows come home, but I believe, statistically, that when government aid is generously funded, and there are fewer desperate, starving or ill people, the overall economy is strengthened and crime is lessened. I don't have the stats, but I believe in my gut that this must be true. And, in my readings about the roots of terrorism, I often see that poverty, frustration and the feeling of impotence when it comes to managing their own destiny, is what makes young men and women ripe for the lure of the destructive power of terrorism.

For, as the saying goes, a hungry man is an angry man.

I have watched and commented on this campaign with intensity. If I had voted the issues, Dennis Kucinich would have been my man. But I knew, as a marketer, that Kucinich didn't have "it," all the surface image traits that Americans need in order to be comfortable with their vote. No matter how hot his wife was, he would forever be labeled as a kook, as many passionate people often are. What I don't think he could have accomplished, nor could any of the Democratic candidates for that matter, was the incredible skill that Barack Obama has for inspiration and unity. In the tiny microcosm of my own life and work, I've seen how powerful this kind of charismatic leadership can be. It has the power of shifting the consciousness, not just of this nation, but of the world.

I am thrilled that Barack Obama will soon be the president of the United States. And I am also aware that it is my continuing responsibility to stay on top of things, to bitch and blog, to hold Obama's feet to the fire. I want this consciousness shift to take root. I want it to become concrete, with legislation, foreign policy, and global results. I want to see a shift away from our debt-inducing addiction to consumerism, that focus on the never-fulfilled emptiness of the self, to a more other-centered world view. Although my grandfather, the Detroit sugar broker, would disagree with me, we don't need a new car every year. Instead, we as individuals, and we as a nation, need to be a lot more like my grandmother, Elsie McIntire Mitchell, and open up our kitchen doors, to share our bounty with others.

On this historic day, I am not finished with this thing called politics. I hope that all of you, no matter your political leanings, are not finished either. Now is not the time to relax and become complacent. Now is the time to work twice as hard, in any way that we can.

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