Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Reflections on the Voting Booth


I've been thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. today. And his dream.

I was a Civil Rights worker in the 60's, going door-to-door in Harlem, NY, registering people to vote who had never voted before.

Many invited me into their homes. I remember one elderly woman named Addie whose tiny apartment was poor but immaculate. A vase of plastic flowers adorned the checkered red and white oilcloth-covered kitchen table where she gave me ginger snaps and tea. On her wall was a picture of President Kennedy, right next to Jesus.

Her voice was so soft that I had to lean in to hear her. She spoke with quiet passion of her slave ancestors who managed to keep hope alive under circumstances most of us cannot imagine. And she agreed to vote so that her children's children could have a better life.

I attended the March on Washington on August 26, 1963 with my two-month old daughter in my arms along with about 250,000 other people. It was the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation's capital.

1963 was a time of racial unrest and civil rights demonstrations. The police in Birmingham, Alabama, had turned attack dogs and fire hoses against protesters, many of whom were children. Dr. King was arrested and jailed during these protests and wrote his famous "Letter From Birmingham City Jail," which advocated civil disobedience against unjust laws.

A Civil Rights Act was stalled in Congress.

The purpose of the march was the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation, elimination of racial segregation in public schools, protection for demonstrators against police brutality, a major public-works program to provide jobs; the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring; a $2/hour minimum wage and self-government for the District of Columbia, which had a black majority.

The heavy police presence turned out to be unnecessary as the march was noted for its civility and peacefulness.

Today, a part of Dr. King's dream which became the dream of so many of us over far too many years, will be fulfilled.

Even the weather cooperated in San Francisco as sunny blue skies replaced nearly a week of heavy rain. I realized that I was smiling the whole time I waited at my polling place.

I strongly support Barack Obama and believe he will win, but the democratic process is more important even than any individual candidate. I am mindful of the fact that in many countries, citizens do not have the right to determine their own government.

Obama's victory would represent for me as for many others the coming full circle of America, a black President in my lifetime which has included seeing black people denied their right to vote. His candidacy has already performed a feat even more remarkable than the first airplane, piloted by Chuck Yeager, to break the sound barrier, traveling faster than the speed of sound.

There is no barrier quite as hard to penetrate as bigotry.

Long ago, on that historic day in Washington DC, Dr. King concluded his electric speech with these words: "And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.'"

I hope and pray that today is that day.

43 comments:

blooming desertpea said...

Amen, sister! Great post. May our wish come true ...

Molly said...

My daughter has a shirt with "B----y [her town] Mamas For Obama" across the front. Her grandfather [fossilized thinking]would have a stroke if he saw it.Two other of my children will be voting for the first time, also for Obama. I would too, if I could. "My Mom is an alien," was one of the things my kids liked to tell their friends....

rhubarbwhine said...

Great post, very moving and shows the passion you have for the Country and the people.

RED MOJO said...

I have cast my vote for Obama, and I hope those who had the issue on the ballet that would ban gays from having the same rights, and benefits as everyone else in this country, would apply that same principal.

The CEO said...

I was there with you. But the only really salient point to make is to say, "Amen".

deanna said...

This post brought tears to my eyes. I waited in line for only a half an hour today, but I would have stayed for hours if I had to. I know voting for Obama will go down as one of the best things I've done in my life. It's a great feeling to know I'm going to be a part of history. My fingers and toes are crossed...

thailandchani said...

Great post.. very good! :)

On a limb with Claudia said...

It's an amazing day, isn't it? Now matter what happens, today is still an amazing day.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I too just wish to say Amen to all that you have said here.

Jocelyn said...

You, like Obama, excel at motivational rhetoric. And both of you are genuine as hell.

And get me all jazzed up and kind of teary.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Desertpea,

It did! Yes, we could.

Molly,

All moms are aliens to their kids, no matter where they're from. It's just part of the job description.

Rhubarb,

Thank you. Like most Americans, I have never lost hope even when things seemed hopeless.

Mojo,

The same principle surely applies no matter who is being discriminated against.

Monty,

You were at the March on Washington, or you were with me in the sentiments I expressed?

Either way, it's nice to be in your company.

Deanna,

In a sense, every day is a part of history, but THIS day was especially historic and exciting.

Thank you for your visit!

Chani,

I'm very glad the news is so good!

Claudia,

Absolutely! I'm so very glad to be here, witnessing and even helping a little.

Calvin,

I would love to know how the people in your country feel about our election today.

Jocelyn,

Oh, now you're putting me in company I can only aspire to.

Most sincerely, thank you.

Nick said...

Fantastic, Obama got there - and by such a colossal majority. Brilliant that so many people believed in him and gave him their votes.

I am not Star Jones said...

you make me proud. always.
bawling.

Echomouse said...

Hell. You made me cry with this post.

I was thinking of MLK too last night and don't have nearly the experiences you've had. This is wonderful on so many levels.

Congratulations! :)

citizen of the world said...

I had similar thoughts, and again listening to Obama's acceptance speech. We're on the way.

furiousBall said...

i am so damn happy this morning. hey world, we're back :)

Lex said...

Today is that day!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Nick,

I am thrilled, but while the racial aspects are evidence of major changes in people's attitudes, I also believe that Barack Obama is the best person to lead this country for many more important reasons.

Star,

Back atcha. And wipe the tears-- we've still got work to do.

Echo,

Congratulations to America! Dr. King said that he would not see the Promised Land himself.

The mills of the gods grind, but slowly.

Citizen,

What a great speech it was, too! He gives me hope, and WE give me hope.

Van,

I am happy, too, and bouncing with excitement.

Yes, we did!!

Lex,

Today Is That Day!

Franki said...

You have lived the most interesting life.

And I too, must add my "Amen"!

Ian Lidster said...

And it was that day, indeed. And thank God for people like you who served in the trenches in those earlier times and halped to bring this all about. You had a huge role.

MsLittlePea said...

Me too. Great post. Made me cry a little. Especially since I'm reading it today and celebrating his win....oh happy day. I'm a realist though, and know there's still a lot of work to do. There's always been a huge part of me that wishes I had grown up in the baby-boomer age so that I could have taken part in all the marching too. But I could never be prouder to have be a GenXer who voted for America's first Black President....give me the torch sister, I want to carry it and march beside you Babyboomers who started it all too! :O)

seventh sister said...

We watched the election results with friends. I don't think I could have handled it with just the two of us. I can't even begin to imagine what this feels like to black people. I suppose that it must somehow invoke a feeling of real personhood that has not been experienced before. One bonus of it is that by the time the results were called, the national media was having an open discussion about race in very honest terms. That can only be a good thing.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Franki,

It's been an interesting ride for sure.

Ian,

A lot of Americans have been working for meaningful change for a very long time, but this victory could not have happened if not for the excellence of Obama himself.

Sweet Pea,

GenX brings a lot of new energy to the country, and I know that you will do wonderful things with it.

My generation had its time and did some good work, but you are the engineers of the future. I'm excited about what you will create with some of the freedoms we helped to bring about.

Sister,

Open discussion is always good because problems can't be solved until they are identified.

I don't think that black people ever doubted their own personhood, but that it was incredibly difficult to hang onto in the face of such brutal and longstanding denial from the dominant culture.

Just think how much better Barack Obama had to be to be considered equal. We're not all the way there yet, but it's a magnificent beginning.

the walking man said...

Hearts...Well said and a well lived life. History is no stranger to you and it is them like you, that are the best of a generation that has known more than its share of trouble.

Los Angelista said...

Aww, Susan, you made me cry again! What a new and amazing energy. It makes me believe anything is possible for my boys, for all of us. It really does!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Mark,

"Some polish is gained with ones ruin."
- Thomas Hardy: The Ruined Maid

Learning from our troubles takes the edge off a bit. And that's what it's all about.

Liz,

I believe that, too. The reality of this keeps sinking in over and over, coming in waves.

Your boys are the future not only of your family, but of this country. And that future has suddenly become a lot brighter.

Em said...

It has been a very long time since I've been excited about politics. But Tuesday was inspirational. And very full of hope.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Em,

Yes, even restorative in terms of belief in my fellow Americans. It will be exciting to see how things unfold after Obama takes office.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Wow.

Wow, what a great post.

Wow, you were part of the civil rights movement; I wish I'd been there, I feel like I'm making much smaller differences now than I could have then.

Wow, you got to see Dr. King and hear him speak. WOW. Dr. King is my hero.

I voted for Obama, and I am so excited to see the change that has already swept over this country; the unity at the polls and after the election. The hope that is almost tangible all over the world. The faith that we have in this man who will change it for the better.

I got to meet Chuck Yeager. He is one amazing man. It was, of course, the only time I have been rendered speechless in my entire life.


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

The CEO said...

I was with you at the March on Washington, and I am also with you in your sentiments, just for accuracy. It's been a long time coming.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Scarlett,

I would love to know how you met Chuck Yeager. Is there a connection between that and your flying lessons?

Drowning in envy here. As you know, my own flying lessons were aborted early through circumstances beyond my control.

The 60's were a time of great social change, and we are now beginning another such period. It's all so exciting!

Monty,

How wonderful that you were there, too. I was actually close enough to hear Dr. King and the others without mics.

I was young and full of hope, and being there meant a lot to me; for the first time in many years I feel that way again now.

NoRegrets said...

Hey, look at this!

http://bradofarrell.tumblr.com/post/58356274/socialism

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I met Chuck here in Denver at the Air and Space Museum for a special event. It was a really incredible night, "everyone who is anyone" was there, politicians included.

My presence there was a gift from friends who knew I'd LOVE it.
Wish SO much that I hadn't been star struck; I couldn't speak at all. That's *never* happened before or since with anyone, celebrities included.

I saw a photo montage of Obama and Dr. King that read: The Dream Team.
Loved it.


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...

No Regrets,

I didn't get much out of that link, but I really like your avatar.

Scarlett,

If you couldn't speak, that IS serious. Maybe Yeager thought you were too young to know who he was.

More importantly, you have awesome friends who really know you.

leslie said...

I am so happy.
I can't stop smiling either. I have been waiting for this day since 1963, too!

NoRegrets said...

Aw too bad. It's a neat series of photos - two fathers holding their sons on their shoulders. One is white, one is black. the white kid had an obama sign, and handed it to the black kid, then they posed together.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Leslie,

The times they are a-changin'.

No Regrets,

The link brought up a bunch of comments which were mostly anti-Obama. I'm so glad you clarified and I'll try again as I would love to see those photos. I often photograph fathers and children because the subject melts me.

Cecilieaux said...

JFK and Jesus. In Latin America I saw JFK and the Virgin Mary, and sometimes (on motorcycles) decals of JFK, the virgin and Brigitte Bardot. Icons to remember.

Maria said...

And it was...

meggie said...

It does almost seem a miracle, that right has been done, & seen to be done, finally.
I cannot express how delighted I feel over this election result... for the whole 'free' world!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Cecil,

JFK, the Virgin Mary and Brigitte Bardot make a charming threesome.

Probably Mary was the chaperone.

Maria,

Yes, it was!!

Meggie,

It's a good beginning. And hopefully, freedom won't always be limited to the so-called "free world."

Glamourpuss said...

Great post. And great victory for Obama.

Puss

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Puss,

Thank you so much!

I believe Obama's victory will be good for America and our allies, who have been disappointed in us for so long.