| That emptiness of the heart is often filled with the acquisition of wealth, power over others, or fame for its own sake, things that can feed and support a hungry ego that has been blinded from altruism by a veil of self-importance. Barack Obama is a man who has held his heart firmly in place in his struggle to reach a position where he can help guide this country on a different course, away from the treacherous waters that many people have been duped into by the Bush administration. When I attended his press conference in Milwaukee the evening of the Virginia Tech massacre, I was able to hear him speak about his intentions of becoming the next U.S. president. During one of his speeches, he said, '"What we can do is make sure that children who don't have opportunity do have opportunity. We can make sure that parents, who don't have health care, do have health care. Those who don't have jobs can get jobs. And there's a new spirit wafting over this nation, one that's premised on the idea that we have mutual responsibility for each other and care for each other. And we are stronger when we are united than when we are divided.
"Somebody said the way we do that is by electing me. I appreciate them saying that, but let me say this. This campaign isn't about me; this campaign is all about you. This campaign is a vehicle for you."
Obama stands at the entrance to the door of unity, with an invitation to all that are willing to join hands together, and attempt to break free of past limitations that have kept the world divided since the beginning of history. Since the world has been in conflict with itself for so long, it wouldn't be wise to assume that all of the world's troubles will disappear with the rise of a new leader who is as much for the people as he is for himself. But he does give the opportunity to tip the scales in favor of those who before had plenty to say, but had no voice to speak. He recognizes the value of all human life. Another thing I thought was important was when Senator Obama spoke about the civil rights movement years ago when Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers marched in Selma, Alabama to gain voting rights despite being beaten and being forced back by the police. There is an annual celebration to mark that courageous event that Barack had once attended. While he was there, someone said to him, 'You know, that was a wonderful celebration of African American history.'' But Obama said, 'No, you don't understand. That was a celebration of American history.' Though there are many different races that have come to America to begin a new life for different reasons, once we are here, we are all Americans, aren';t we? Who defines what it means to be American? The unity that Barack Obama is searching for can only be achieved when we let go of old identities that cause separation between the peoples, and start looking at ourselves as purely Americans, without the need to place so much importance on whether someone is African-American, American-Indian, Euro-American, etc. The more we use terms and have attitudes that cause division among ourselves, the more we will be divided. There is only unity when people choose to come out of the security and predictability of the fossilized past that cannot be rewritten, and sacrifice most of what they believe in favor of a new direction in life. No change so profound would happen overnight, and we all have personal speed bumps that will slow us down along the road, but at last we have a man running for president who is willing to take us in that direction and awaken the possibility of new life in all of us.
It was a subdued campaign affair. Gone were the balloons and the brass bands. Gone too was the crowd of politicians on stage, eagerly urging the candidate on to victory. Gone was the well-known singer to whip the crowd into a frenzy. Instead, a lone stool with a music stand sat in the middle of the stage with the American flag serving as a backdrop. Two children, the son and daughter of Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines came out and performed "God Bless America."
It was the night of April 16 in the Milwaukee Theater, the night of the massacre at Virginia Tech where 33 people had lost their lives that morning. U.S. Senator Barack Obama was scheduled to appear at a campaign fundraiser. After making the decision to hold the campaign rally, it was decided that it would be a somber affair. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett came out and introduced Obama and then sat on the lone stool in the background. Obama came out in a subdued tone and held a conversation about violence and national unity with the very diverse crowd. After noting the impact of physical violence in all of its manifestations on America, Obama launched into a discourse -- it almost felt like a one-on-one talk with the crowd -- about the impact that public policies -- or lack thereof -- can have on people';s lives. "The challenge to America today is knowing that the health care system is broken and causing families to be bankrupt all across America, bankrupting our companies," Obama said. "We have an education system that leaves too many children behind. The challenge is a war that never should have been authorized and never should have been fought."
Obama feels that there is much that can be done to turn America around. "We know that if we increase fuel efficiency standards on cars, we can create a sustainable environment," Obama observed. "We know that with health care we can make sure that children have regular check-ups and are not brought to emergency rooms to be treated for illnesses like asthma. We know that if we invest in early childhood education and we give teachers the pay and the respect they deserve no child will be left behind."
But while Americans know what needs to be done, Obama feels that the body politic has become disheartened and no longer believes that government can promote the general welfare and be a vehicle for social change. "We have given up believing that we can change so we turn away," Obama said. "And we worry about ourselves. And we stopped believing. It is our disengagement that allows us to tolerate violence. How can we regain that power? How can we regain the sense that we had? How can we restore our faith in the future? How can we push back against cynicism and hopelessness and despair?"
But while many Americans have turned to private, individual solutions to their problems, Obama believes that it is only through community that things can get turned around. "We can prevent that other violence that I talked about," Obama continued. "What we can do is make sure that children, who don't have opportunity, do have opportunity. We can make sure that parents, who don't have health care, do have health care. Those who don't have jobs can get jobs. And there's a new spirit wafting over this nation, one that's premised on the idea that we have mutual responsibility for each other and care for each other. And we are stronger when we are united than when we are divided."
Obama reflected back on the civil rights movement when a sense of national unity and purpose destroyed legal segregation and propelled America on the road to a new chapter in its existence. "If you make the decision that change is going to happen, then the change will happen," Obama emphasized to a cheering crowd. "I was in Selma, Alabama a while back to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the march from the Edmund Pettit Bridge. I was with John Lewis, one of my heroes from the civil rights movement, now a Congressman. When we marched across, I thought about that day 42 years ago when about 500 people gathered at Brown Chapel, young college students, housekeepers, people without a stake were there. They were motivated by courage and potential. They marched and were met by horses and Billy clubs and tear gas. There was tons of violence. They were beaten and were turned back. A week later, Dr. King came down, gathered people together and said 'Don't lose hope.' Thousands of people from all across the country gathered in Selma. Those thousands marched.' I was coming back from that celebration and someone said 'You know, that was a wonderful celebration of African American history," Obama continued. "I said 'No, you don't understand. That was a celebration of American history.' Change comes when ordinary people decide that change is going to come. When millions of voices come together, they do extraordinary things. That's how slavery was defeated. That's how women obtained the right to vote. That's how the civil rights movement perfected this Union. That's how the Vietnam War came to an end. At every juncture of American history, it's been the young people who have made a change. We'll get history moving again a little bit in the other direction."
In the end, it is that sense of history, that sense of destiny when the majority of Americans come to the conclusion, independently and together, that Obama is basing his quest for the presidency. It is within that historic movement of progress that Obama places his candidacy and indeed offers it not as his own candidacy, but as a vehicle for change. Somebody said the way we do [make that change] is by electing me," Obama said. "I appreciate them saying that, but let me say this. This campaign isn't about me; this campaign is all about you."
And for many in the sympathetic crowd, Barack Obama is the vehicle for change to move beyond the decline in the quality of their lives that they have experienced over the past seven years.
|U.S. Senator Barack Obama appears in Milwaukee
A race for America's future
By Andrew Gramling
|Of all the presidential candidates who will be running for president in 2008, the one who stands out from the others most in my mind is Barack Obama. Obama has a very honest, humble, and kind-hearted, yet very determined disposition that makes him a leader of distinction. Not often is it that a person makes their way to a high level of achievement, while keeping many of their humanitarian ideals in tact. The quest to reach the top of the ladder of success can tear away at the layers of the soul and leave many would-be champions with cold and empty hearts.|
|A call for national unity
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 2 of 2