Monday, October 27, 2008

Daring to Hope - Scranton PA

Saturday loomed dark, wet, and gloomy as we set off at 6 a.m. for a long day canvassing for Obama in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The rain followed us all day long and at night through the journey home. We - my daughter, her friend, and me -- were chilled and our feet numb by the time it was over, but were glad we had made the effort.

It was not so much what we accomplished for the campaign -- precious little, I'm afraid, mostly leaving literature on porches where people were not home or not willing to come to the door, although part of our job was to encourage supporters to make sure to vote and to mark down others who may not have been contacted before. But like so many things in life, I think we received so much more than we were able to give.

Of those people who did come to their doors, not only were virtually all of them strong Obama supporters, but there was not a one who said in a bored or irritated manner something like, uh, yea, I'm voting for him, goodbye. Everyone, young, old, white, black, Hispanic, stopped and smiled and had a gleam in their eyes when they said, yes, they were definitely voting for Obama and so were their friends or family. While I haven't done a lot of canvassing in my lifetime, I've never seen or heard people talk that way about a political candidate.

I really did not expect anything like that from the neighborhoods we visited. Maybe it was just the grey, rain-soaked Saturday afternoon that made the blocks of small, older homes look sad and discourgaged. But the people who opened their doors to us were not.

Earlier that day, our training session in downtown Scranton ended with a surprise visit from Rory Kennedy, youngest child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, documentary film-maker on topics such as The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, Pandemic: Facing AIDS, and American Hollow (the story of a struggling Appalachian family), and the mother of three young children. Rory gave a short pep talk, which I later discovered was a much condensed version of the speech she gave earlier in the primaries and her endorsement, "Two Fine Choices - One Clear Decision" published in the San Francisco Chronicle. I cannot recall her exact words, but they echoed these from her endorsement:

In my years making documentaries, I have traveled to remote regions, from small villages in South America, to townships in South Africa, to the hollows of Appalachia. Every trip, every film, I meet people who still keep photographs of my family on their walls. They cry when they meet me, simply because they were touched by my father, Robert Kennedy. In part, this is because my father supported policies and legislation that helped the disenfranchised. But it is also, and perhaps more importantly, because they felt that my father understood their pain. Senator Obama has that quality too. He has an open heart and an energizing spirit.

Recently, my mother, Ethel Kennedy, said of Obama: "I think he feels it. He feels it just like Bobby did. He has the passion in his heart. He's not selling you. It's just him."

I agree. Obama is a genuine leader. We Americans - women included - desperately need that kind of leader now. Not a president of a particular gender or a specific race, but a president with a different vision, one who inspires a sense of hope.

I don't know why -- I've never been smitten with the Kennedy mystique, as much as I have respected the tireless efforts of many family members to truly serve the public good -- but my eyes swelled up with tears when I heard her speak. At the time Bobby Kennedy was campaigning for President himself, I had questions about whether he had commanded the spotlight in the race after standing on the shoulders of others who had worked hard before him (namely Eugene McCarthy), but I, too, was struck by the way he genuinely seemed to "feel it" when he spoke to people and the uncanny ability he had to inspire people to think and feel differently, to see the larger picture, and to take action accordingly. At a time when many were devastated over the effects of the seemingly endless Vietnam war, and the horror of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., he continued to give people a sense of hope and determination, to bring together black and white American, and to dare to dream of a better future for all -- until then he was killed as well.

Rory, his last child (not born until December 12, 1968, after her father's death in June, the violent Democratic convention in August, and Richard Nixon's election in November), is herself a representative of her father's hope -- not just by name, family tradition or agenda. I knew nothing of her until I returned home and started reading, but she certainly has not given up when most would. In addition to her father's death, her own personal tragedies include holding her dying brother Michael in her arms in 1997 and then in 1998 having her own wedding postponed when her cousins, John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife, died in a plane crash en route to her wedding. Yet she married, had children, continued her work with her husband making an astonishing series of films, and now is doing what she can to support Obama's campaign. Such hope, faith, and tenacity cannot help but astonish me.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for words of inspiration and hope, whether they come from a politician, an activist, or a preacher. But I saw those words personified as I sloshed through the streets and alleys of North Scranton on Saturday. People are daring to hope, at a time and a place where there seems to be no reason to have much. Let us also hope that they will not be disappointed.


+clumber said...

Good on ya, klady! Proud of your activity! I've spent almost all of my life voting against stuff. Against the war, against a person who pardoned Nixon, against Bush41, against Reagan, against Al Gore, against Bush43. I guess there have been some occasional "for votes as well... Clean Gene, Ralph Nadar... but this time just feels different. I don't agree with some of Obama's ideas, but somehow the feeling is that the country can be changed, it can go in a good new direction... we can dare to hope for something better.

klady said...

Well, I can't take all the credit. Although I talked about it before, the girls really spurred me on since they asked me to take them. I figured that anything that would get them out of bed at 5 a.m. on Sat. had to be worth encouraging. My daughter's friend was the one whose parents' Obama yard sign was burned down here, so maybe it was one way they thought they could do something constructive in the face of that kind of thing. (BTW, my new sign was stolen on Friday, as well).

I have a very dear blogfriend who still thinks that voting for anyone but Nader or a similar real Progressive is a travesty, I understand his point, but this time a) I just can't just stand by and not try to keep McCain-Palin from winning, and b) I have to stand for someone who seems to be a truly decent man, who truly wants to use his intelligence and his ability to listen to (not just speak to) others, to do his best for all of us. Even though I, too, do not agree with all of his policy proposals, I feel I have to act for someone who believes that government can and should be used for the good of everyone, and that while it (government) can and often does make make huge errors and causes harm, we cannot just throw it out and resort to not running government based on a me-first for everything ideology out of sheer selfishness and misguided self-righteousness (not to mention the stupidity of thinking that protecting the rich will do any good for the middle-class right wingnuts who support it). Even Noam Chomsky agrees that, at least in swing states, Obama is the best choice.

Anyway, I wanted to give the girls an opportunity to do something (recalling how may parents would not let me get involved in anti-war protests in Chicago in 1968 - though since I was only 15, they probably were right). I can tell it's had a lasting effect. I see this morning that she joined a new Facebook group callsed "I will not attend school on Wednesday, November 5 if John McCain is elected." Oh to be young again.....

klady said...

P.S. She says the group is just a joke (and that I should not read her Facebook page). We'll see.......

o-mom said...

I hope you will let her stay home, should that travesty occur- for she is a good kid by all accounts and deserves to have her protest. It is small and nothing compared to what we will feel like doing, or what we would have done, had we had a life ;p (Not that this is any of my business, but when did that ever stop me??) Thanks for taking the time to do the work!

klady said...

Well, I keep telling her generally that I won't lie to excuse her from school, but if McCain loses and she really wants to stay home, I would have no difficulty telling school officials that we were all seriously ill.

I'd rather think of ways to celebrate an Obama win(and not think of the possibility that we might not know who won on Wednesday morning).