Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Monday, November 03, 2008

Barack Obama and the American Dream

Around the time that Barack Obama was growing up in Hawaii, I was growing up in Pasadena, California. We lived in a craftsman house surrounded by trees and, entering the etched glass front door, there was an old Persian rug in the foyer. At the bottom of the stairs, between the pocket doors leading into the living room on one side and the library on the other, I would lay face down on that rug, pretending I could fly.

I’d surround myself with comic books, an adventure story or a mystery, and a large drawing pad, and I'd spend time reading and sketching out my dreams. I’d imagine that I was on the stage, famous and beloved. I’d listen to the sound of music drifting out of the living room. Sometimes I’d pray for super powers, so I could spend my life helping people.

The world was before me, laid out across the fields of my imagination.

In truth, my life was not idyllic, though I was more fortunate than many. I didn’t grow up thinking much about race, probably because my parents had taught me to be the best person I could be, not the best person I as an African American girl could be. I had always lived in integrated neighborhoods and attended integrated schools. My family was middle class, my grandparents had been business owners, my parents were college educated. I was a dreamy, shy kid, and an excellent student.

Sometimes when walking home from school, debating whether I’d rather be a pilot or an actress, somebody would drive by and yell the n-word out of their car window.

Out there in the wider world, Martin Luther King, a man of peace, had walked from Selma to Montgomery. I had been taught to trust the police, but these police were really angry about something, holding rifles and yelling at Dr. King and the people walking with him --- students, religious leaders of many faiths, parents, working people, famous people and people who were unknown. He was walking with other black people, but also with white people, with brown people, people with roots in Asia and with the first Americans. All were peaceful.

They simply wanted everyone to be able to vote.

"Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom. Let us march to the realization of the American dream.”

--- The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights marchers on the road from Selma to Montgomery, wearing leis symbolizing peace. The leis are said to have been the idea of Hawaiian minister Reverend Abraham Akaka.

I put aside my comic books, and started to realize that I did not need any super powers to be of service to others. I started to dream in real life, and my heroes were named Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez and Bobby Kennedy.

By the summer of 1968, two of the three had been killed, shattering my youthful illusions.

There’s just something wrong with becoming cynical when you’re barely old enough for middle school. Somehow, I didn't give up.

Through my youth, my teen years and now into my adult years, it has become obvious that Martin Luther King was right. The time for the idea had come. Slowly, at times imperceptibly, we marched on to a time when the realization of the American dream became at least a possibility for all.

For eight years now, though, that dream has been on the endangered list. Now is the time to nurture that dream before it becomes lost.

Photo (c) AP/Elaine Thompson --- Obama at Democratic event in Washington state, 2006.

This election is our chance - our moment - to restore the simple dream of those who came before us for another generation of Americans. But only if we can come together like previous generations did and close that divide between a people and its leaders in Washington.

Because in the end, the choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It's not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white.

It's about the past versus the future.”

What became of that dreamy little girl of days passed? I graduated from a fine university in Los Angeles, with a major in English and minors in art and theatre arts. I became an assistant director, specializing in motion pictures, and I was invited to join the Directors Guild of America. I do a little writing from time to time. I still dream while I listen to music, enjoying a range of great music from Clay Aiken to Yo-Yo Ma. The joy of my life is service, so I do a bit from time to time for organizations ranging from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS to UNICEF.

I learned an early lesson about looking not at the color of skin but at the content of character. I look at people instead of labels, so I still tend not to think much about race, or religion, or gender or sexual orientation, except for when I consider what a gift to my life diversity brings.

I never learned to fly, but every once in a while, I soared.

I guess I found my American dream. In these difficult economic times, it’s not always certain that I will be able to hang onto it.

And what about that kid from Hawaii, whose mother was from a small Kansas town and whose father was from Kenya? Barack served the people by becoming a community organizer. He earned a law degree from Harvard, was president of the Harvard Review, practiced as a civil rights lawyer and taught constitutional law. He served in the Illinois State Senate for eight years and is currently a member of the U.S. Senate.

I understand that he has a decent chance of becoming president of the United States.

And though he is quintessentially American, and focused on the needs and concerns of those living in this country, he is, truly, African/American, as well, with an eye on our place in the world.

He is the face of America’s future --- if we are bold enough to choose it.

The time has come.

There is no reason for me to list the facts and figures of Barack Obama’s background, education, endeavors and political career --- the information is now obvious and everywhere. I don’t need to cite his policies and positions on the issues: on the day before this historic presidential election, I can’t impart any knowledge with this blog that hasn’t been widely available before.

I simply want this to serve as a reminder that your vote can build a strong new foundation for a dream.


Forty years. I think about those marchers from Selma to Montgomery, who were turned back, attacked, and even though some were killed, they as a group persevered.

Forty years --- and I can simply stroll into my precinct and vote for the most capable and the most inspiring candidate in my lifetime.

Barack means blessed. On Tuesday, November 4, I hope we all will be blessed with the courage to seize our dreams and turn them into a bright new reality.

The time has come. Now is the time for Barack Obama. For America. For the dream.

"The true test of the American ideal is whether we're able to recognize our failings and then rise together to meet the challenges of our time. Whether we allow ourselves to be shaped by events and history, or whether we act to shape them. Whether chance of birth or circumstance decides life's big winners and losers, or whether we build a community where, at the very least, everyone has a chance to work hard, get ahead, and reach their dreams."

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Music & Politics - The Sound of Change from the Past to our Future

I find that I cannot wait to get to the polls on Tuesday and cast my vote for Barack Obama. I'm excited about this election in a way that I haven't been excited in a very long time. I remember the feeling I had when Bobby Kennedy was running for President. It was to be my first election and I had just gotten involved in politics. It was "our" time - my generation's. And the optimism many of us felt in the midst of social unrest was strong. The assassination of Martin Luther King had hit us hard. There were riots in major cities despite President Johnson's attempts to introduce anti-poverty and anti-discrimination legislation. And, of course, there was significant opposition to the ongoing military action in Vietnam. And yet, there was hope. And hope is what I see now when I look at the video and pictures of an Obama rally. Hope on the faces of the diverse audience. And I love my "Got Hope?" bumper sticker I put on my car a number of months ago.

I've been thinking about those late 60's/early 70's years and the music that evolved around the politics of the times. So much of that music still resonates with me - and others - even now.

This clip from The Smothers Brothers shows Pete Seeger singing Waist Deep In The Big Muddy with other brief snippets of other soldier songs. Written by Seeger in 1967, the song tells the story of a platoon wading in a river in Louisiana on a practice patrol in 1942. The captain orders the platoon to continue, until they're finally up to their necks. This is also symbolic of the Vietnam War as a whole, and how the United States kept getting deeper and deeper into the war and eventually became so drawn into it that withdrawal was nearly impossible, but kept pushing on anyway. And now, more than 5 years into the Iraq War - it is sadly timely again.

It's hard to believe that the brilliant Marvin Gaye wrote Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) more than thirty years ago - and profoundly sad that so little has changed:

Tom Paxton
has been a hero of mine since the 60's when I first saw him in clubs in the Village. He's just turned 71 and he's still going strong. In this video, Tom takes his "Changing My Name To Chrysler" song about the controversial 1979 loan bailout to Chrysler and updates it to "Changing My Name to Fannie Mae". What's old is new again.

Tom usually includes in his concerts what he calls "short shelf-life songs" and here's his little ditty about Sarah Palin:

Yeah, yeah, yeah - you all know how much I adore Bobby Darin. I also find his song, Simple Song Of Freedom, to be honest and compelling in it's simplicity. It's interesting that what are labeled "protest songs" are oftentimes not negative, but powerfully life affirming. Written in 1969, it just asks us to consider what is at stake. A question that is worth asking ourselves now - on the eve of this important election.

All this Palin and McCain spin about socialism and communism got me thinking about a satirical song called The John Birch Society by the Chad Mitchell Trio from 1962. Just remember :
"You cannot trust your neighbor or even next of kin
If mommie is a commie then you gotta turn her in"

Holly Near.
Oh wonderful Holly Near. Teacher. Entertainer. Activist. Her voice is timeless. Here she is singing I Am Willing at a 2006 at a rally outside the White House.

Buffy Sainte-Marie has been singing Universal Soldier since 1963. And here she is singing it for Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against The War in front of the Capital and Native American Museum in Washington DC on the five year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. 1963 to 2008. And the song is still true. I found this video extremely moving - seeing Buffy singing surrounded by veterans holding microphones to her mouth and guitar.

"He's the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers can't you see,
This is not the way we put the end to war."

Spook Handy is a songwriter from New Jersey who created a terrific song called "Vote" and put it together with a video that hopefully will get your toes tapping right out the door to the voting booth!

Written by Woody Guthrie in the 1940, This Land Is Your Land, remains to me the most memorable and patriotic song of our time. The song was written in response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" which Guthrie believed to be unrealistic and complacent. How fitting for this blog that Bruce Springsteen once again brought back the song in 2008 as set closer when performing acoustic concerts in support of Barack Obama, this time adding a "Yes We Can" chant before and after the song.

This version, performed live by Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie is my favorite. It lifts my soul, makes me hopeful, and makes me proud. This is my America.

And finally . . . Clay Aiken singing Grace of God to a moving video . . .

I am an American proudly casting my vote for Barack Obama!

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