Monday, November 3, 2008
Vote for Barack Obama
So you’re one of those open-minded readers who takes the time to check out why a total stranger thinks you should vote one way or another? Well, let me begin by thanking you for allowing me to briefly be one of those editorial writers pompous enough to assume people actually care what he thinks.
I waited in line for two hours in 40-degree weather last week to hear Barack Obama speak to about 18,000 people at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. I’m guessing being underdressed in that long line for so long will be what I remember far longer than anything eloquent Obama said, and there was plenty of that.
But I was struck by the number of black people there.
That’s the kind of a line a Karl Rove could take out of context and use to convince western Pennsylvania racists that we have something to fear from any large gathering of black people.
No, the black people weren’t striking me in the violent sense. They were striking because their euphoria was palpable, as was an anxiety that this dream could be yanked away by Republican chicanery (I’m right there with them on that one).
I saw one elderly black man who couldn’t get the smile off his face or keep the tears from welling in his eyes. My stereotypical assumptions about him were that he’d been mistreated many times in his life simply for being born black. He may have spent his entire life trying to dodge a prison sentence or ghetto bullets.
But never once did he think he’d live long enough to see a black man who could earn the widespread enthusiasm and votes to get elected to the White House.
Then I saw the young black girls who were laughing and playful. Now, they can grow up believing that maybe they, too, will have a chance to be president.
To me, the most moving statement ever written about race in America was fittingly penned, not on some college campus, but in a jail in 1963 by a man who’d been beaten and sent there for working to see blacks were given their simple constitutional right to vote.
“... you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and you see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct and answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: ‘Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?’”
That was Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
I read it in Taylor Branch’s 1988 book, “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963. And it struck me . Like a ton of bricks. Still does.
So I’m voting for Barack Obama and I hope you do, too.
You can vote for him for his economic plan, because you believe his health care proposals will help the country or any of the other matters that have been debated so endlessly over the last two years.
Or you can do it for the reason I am.
I believe it’s a truly affirmative action.