Friday, June 06, 2008

Good Old Boy #58: Unity is strength

I really liked this story. It's from a Democrat activist in Alabama who supports Obama:

"I got to the meeting and began the process of hugging the people I knew and introducing myself to the ones I didn't. Someone came up and grabbed my arm. "Mr. C___ was looking for you." I didn't know a Mr. C___, but I had helped organize the night's festivities (we were going to eat dinner, watch the primaries and discuss the upcoming voter registration drive) and I guessed he must be one of the people I'd called. She pointed him out to me -- an elderly black man in a bright orange baseball cap -- and I wound my way through the crowd to introduce myself.

"Mr. C____? I'm [cishart]. You were looking for me?" He was every bit of 80 years old, a thin man with weathered skin and a dignified air. He smiled at me, one eye blind and clouded over, the other bright and sparkling. "Are you the one that called me about the meeting? I just wanted to know if I'm at the right place." I assured him he was and we chatted for a moment before I wandered off to say hello to others who'd come in.

A little later, I was deep in conversation with a woman about my age who was there with her husband. Her husband happened to be chatting with Mr. C. so the four of us ended up sharing a table for dinner. I sat down next to Mr. C. and his face lit up. "I want to show you what I've got," he said, and reached into a plastic pouch to pull out a thick stack of forms and a yellow highlighter. They were voter registration forms he'd picked up that day from the board of registrars. He flipped through the stack, showing me where he'd gone through each one, highlighting the required sections. "I'm ready to get to work," he said.

The four of us chatted over dinner about all things Obama, about how excited we were, about how much work it would take to swing Alabama for Obama. We talked for awhile about the best places in the city to plan voter registration events. Mr. C. patted the stack in front of him. "I'm planning on handing these out in churches and to people I know," he explained. "I'm not about to help McCain get elected by giving them to people if I don't know how they're going to vote." Still, a little later, he said to make sure I called him whenever we were planning a registration drive. "I'm looking forward to working hard this summer."

Eventually the conversation turned to Hillary. We expressed our anger over how she'd run her campaign, the damage she was doing and how ungenerous she was being. Well, three of us did. Mr. C. had gone quiet. The other woman and I talked about how much we hated the media's impression that Hillary controlled a block of white, middle-aged women. As white, middle-aged (ish) women, we found that particularly annoying. Occasionally people at other tables weighed in with their agreement, but Mr. C. still stayed quiet.

A few minutes later, the couple across from me moved over to chat with someone else. I was finishing the last bit of my meal when Mr. C. spoke for the first time in several minutes. "I like Hillary," he offered quietly.

I turned to face him and his eyes were troubled. "Me and my family," he said, "we've always been close with the Clintons. They've done a lot for us." He paused. "I'm not going to say anything bad about her."

I didn't know what to say. Looking into his eyes, I knew this man had seen and experienced things I could never fully comprehend. He had been a black male, in his prime, in the South, during the civil rights movement. He had lived his life, raised his family and taught school in Alabama in a time when simply being a a black man in the South could be deadly, much less a politically active black man. This man had heard and experienced Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech in ways I could only try to understand, and it was clear that he felt the full import of Barack Obama's nomination down to his bones.

And yet he couldn't, he wouldn't be bitter about how it had all happened. He wouldn't let himself be angry over the things Hillary did or didn't do or say in this campaign, because for him none of those things erased the very real good that she and Bill Clinton had done in the past. And he understood that nothing she said or didn't say this night could tarnish the importance of what was happening. Barack Obama, a black man, was the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. The only thing that was important now was getting him elected.

As Barack is fond of saying, one voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room it can change a group, if one voice can change a group then it can change a community, and that one voice can then change a state and change the country.

Mr C.'s voice changed me Tuesday night. It reminded me of what I'd forgotten in all my righteous bluster. That unity doesn't come from a place of anger. Unity comes from the concious choice to put aside petty differences to focus on what's important."


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