Archive for the ‘Save the world’ Category

What this means

Many of you know that my education is in History.  Specifically American History.  Specifically Ante-Bellum American History.  Specifically the American South in the 18th Century.

In that focus, it’s impossible to not study and be aware of the impact of slavery and race in our history.  To say it is important is a great understatement.  It is the lasting carryover of our dark, shameful history in this country.  Slavery and racism is our sad legacy and the lasting effects of it can be felt all over America.

I’m writing this not as a joyful, gleeful, hopeful Democrat (which, naturally, I AM!), but as an observer and student of the history of our country.  What I’m about to write is not partisan.

Last night, as I was watching Obama’s acceptance speech, tears were streaming down my face.  And it wasn’t even his eloquent, beautiful words.  It was a keen awareness of the fact that I was watching history being made.  I was a part of history.  The feeling and the awareness was overwhelming to me.  It’s something I’ve never felt before- not truly.

“Watching history being made” is a statement that is bandied about without much concern for what it means these days.  People always think that what happens in their lifetimes will be everlasting, but it isn’t the case.  Almost everything becomes a footnote, only focused on and studied by historians with specific, esoteric fields of study.  The 2000 and 2004 elections will not be widely remembered in 200 years.  I’m even prepared to say that George Bush will not be widely remembered- even though his is officially our most unpopular president ever.   Kids in advanced history classes in High School will memorize his name and some cute little mnemonic to remember that he was 43, but his legacy- good or bad- will not endure for centuries.  I know it is hard to imagine, given our passions about him and his politics, but people were just as passionate about Taft (remembered for getting stuck in his bathtub) and Chester A. Arthur (remembered for his especially ridiculous facial hair).

But what happened last night was different.  This is a date that little kids will have to memorize.  This is a man who statues will be built for and High Schools will be named after.  This isn’t politics, this is an honest-to-god defining moment in American History.  This is as significant as Cornwallis surrendering to George Washington in Yorktown, VA.  This is as significant as a group of soldiers in Charleston, S.C firing on US Soldiers at Ft. Sumter.  This is as significant as the Constitutional Convention.  This is a Pearl Harbor.

That we have gone from a Nation built on the back of slaves only 150 years ago, and a nation that murdered black men and women trying to vote 70 years ago to a  country that just elected a black man as our leader is something to truly be proud of.   Our changing nation is miraculous.

I feel like this is a moment to savor- a moment to ignore the political squabbling and the division and the arguments and the anger and frustration and disappointment (and trust me, as a Democrat, boy do I ever know how you feel) and to just embrace that we have become a nation that has just thrown off the largest lasting yoke of inequality in this country.   Today, we are truly all Americans.  We truly all have a voice.  We truly belong to one United nation.

I am so awed.  And so proud.

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Iraq veterans abused by police during the debate

A few months ago, I posted about a former class-mate of mine, Matthis Chiroux, who was refusing to be re-deployed to Iraq.  Matthis is an active member of the anti-war group Iraq Veterans Against the War, who staged a small, peaceful protest during the last debate, hoping to approach both John McCain and Barack Obama with questions that were especially relevant to the thousands of veterans in America.  They were refused, then shockingly abused by the Nassau County Police Department after they were arrested for disturbing the peace.  Please read this account of the incident as told by Matthis.  No matter what your political beliefs (and I will remind you that they were there to ask questions of BOTH candidates), I think we can all agree that there is no excuse for our police to abuse honorable, brave veterans.

I think it’s really important to get this story out, because it has been ignored in the media.  If you find it compelling, please repost it on your own blogs or send it to your friends.

Hooves of fury stampede veterans/U.S. Constitution Oct. 15
Matthis Chiroux of the “Hempstead 15″ recounts his debate experience

Wednesday, Oct. 15th, 2008, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and supporters gathered near the Hempstead, N.Y., train station to march on the final presidential debate at Hofstra University.

Our intent was made clear in a letter to Bob Schieffer, the debate moderator, one week prior. We wanted two members of our organization inside the debate where they would ask one question of Obama and one of McCain. If CBS and the candidates failed to meet our demands, we would march on Hofstra at 7 p.m. in a peaceful attempt to enter the debate to have our voices heard.

I planned on asking Barack Obama if he would back up his assessment of the occupation of Iraq as illegal by supporting service members who would thus be required to refuse service there. Kris Goldsmith planned on asking McCain about his history of failing to vote in favor of V.A. funding, especially since the beginning of the occupation of Iraq.

Non-violence was stressed in every stage leading up to this action. It was stressed by me and Kris to Det. Thomas J. Calvert and Det. Robert Annese of the Nassau County Police Department the day before the action. Calvert and Annese were in charge of security for the debate, and they assured us they would instruct their officers to respect the non-violent spirit of the action by using restraint towards peaceful veterans and demonstrators.

In every stage of planning, IVAW made every effort to keep all planned tactics and actions “above the table” so that the candidates, the media, the police and the country would know exactly what would happen if our demands were not met.

We were at Hofstra to force the issue that veterans and service members are not being cared for or heard from by our government, and the candidates, CBS and the Nassau County Police Department couldn’t have proved us more correct.

We, the veterans and our supporters, stood together in solidarity, knowing the stakes were high. But a resolve echoed deep from with us to stand our ground and be heard. Twice these candidates had brushed us off, and thrice just wasn’t going to happen.

So at seven p.m. when we’d heard nothing from the moderators, IVAW made good on its promise to the candidates and Det. Calvert. We marched to the front gate of Hofstra, read our questions and peacefully proceeded into police lines.

Because these candidates cared more to hear from “Joe the Plumber” than veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, ten veterans went to jail and five civilian supporters joined us.

This upsets me, but I knew the risk, and if I must fall in defense of democracy, peace and justice, I offer my sacrifice willingly.

What infuriates me is the GROSS MISCONDUCT of the police in the process, much of which I believe to be illegal.

After my arrest, the police charged their horses onto a sidewalk and, unprovoked, knocked my friend Nick Morgan, a veteran of Iraq, to the ground and trampled his face. They then arrested him, put a piece of gauze on his facewound and loaded him onto a bus headed for jail with the rest of the Hempstead 15.

After they brought Nick onto the bus and we the veterans identified him as exhibiting signs of a concussion and as needing immediate medical attention, our arresting officers laughed at us and told us Nick would receive no help unless he himself asked to go to the hospital, though Nick was barely conscience and completely disoriented at the time AND THE COPS KNEW IT!

We pointed out that as a result of a serious head injury, Nick wasn’t aware enough to speak for himself. The police responded with, “too bad.”

After Nick stirred enough for us to instruct him to ask for medical attention, he was taken to a hospital, diagnosed with a fractured cheekbone, given nothing more than Motrin for the pain and brought to the Police Station where he sat chained to a bench for 5 hours with no further medical attention at all.

Additionally, police pulled other members and supporters of ours from the sidewalk and arrested them while horses spun in circles causing injury to most who couldn’t escape their paths.

All of this, I observed after arrest through the large windows of a bus we were detained in which was parked parallel to the demonstration and subsequent atrocities.

While on the bus, the officers mocked us, calling us idiots and whiners. When we arrived at the Nassau County Detention Center, the hazing did not cease.

One officer, when I brought up the prospect of speaking to a lawyer, threatened to, “put me in the back (jail),” where, “the big boys will pop your cherry!” When I asked this officer if he had just threatened an honorably discharged veteran of Afghanistan with prison rape and told him I wanted his name and rank, he refused and told me to look it up on the police report which the Nassau County Police Department has refused to provide us a copy of.

While detained, the three females who were arrested with us, including Marine Reserve Capt. Marlisa Grogan, were sexually harassed by the police who went so far as to hold Ids next to the chained women’s faces and make comments like, “you look like you came out of a Barbie magazine.”

All night, they didn’t stop. “You’re cowards, you’re idiots,” they said. The hostility was thick and unwarranted.

“This non-violent protest stuff is retarded,” they said (as if they’d prefer the alternative). “See how it got your friend’s face fucked up?”

Literally, they said this when they brought Nick in and chained him to the bench. The harassment only increased from there.

“Look at you friend’s face,” said one officer. “You’re responsible for that.” As if I gave to order to charge horses onto a crowded sidewalk.

I saw this same officer in the Colony diner where we went to eat after we were charged with disorderly conduct and released. He was with the one who threatened me with prison rape, and when I approached them respectfully and again asked for their names, he leapt to his feet, threw his finger in my face and began threatening to “beat my ass” if I didn’t drop it.

Afterward, one of his friends, also a police officer, approached me, accused me of being drunk and said I was about to get arrested again. I retorted that his accusations were false (considering I’d only gotten out of jail 30 minutes prior) and that I was only interested in learning the names of the officers who arrested and harassed us as I have the legal right to do. He responded with only his name, which he said was Peter Sikinger, but refused to reveal the names of his partners, though to his credit, he did back down from threatening me with arrest.

I am outraged at the egregious conduct of the Nassau Country Police Department and the failure of Det. Calvert to make good on his promise to “make things go as smoothly as possible.”

But mostly, I must put this on the candidates.

Barack Obama and John McCain, you have failed to properly address the occupation of Iraq and veteran and service member issues in this campaign. You failed to hear from us, the veterans and service members, at the conventions. Your overwhelming concern for “Joe the Plumber” at the final debate while veterans are killing themselves at a rate of 18 per month is inhumane to say the least.

The fact that you allowed your veterans to be arrested, brutalized and harassed for simply trying to be heard by you is inexcusable. Forever should your consciences be scarred for what you allowed to take place to veterans on American soil.

But our questions still stand, and we still demand answers.

Obama, are you ready to support members of the military refusing to participate in the occupation of Iraq which you have termed “illegal?”

McCain, as a veteran, how can you account for your abysmal failure to vote in favor of post-2003 legislation to fund the V.A. which provides life saving services to men and women who gave all to serve this nation?

Besides which, you both owe the Hempstead 15 an apology. You owe Nick Morgan an apology for the reconstructive surgery he’ll be receiving and the permanent, violent altering of his face that is a result of your failure to hear from us.

You owe every veteran in history a public statement condemning the sidewalk trampling of Nick and Carlos Harris, an Iraq veteran, who also had his foot broken by a horse. As well Geoff Millard, a disabled veteran of Iraq with degenerative spine disease who was knocked to the ground, dragged from the sidewalk and arrested, and Nadine Lubka, one of our supporters, who was kicked in the face by a horse.

And we the people are not done forcing this issue.

I encourage every person who reads this to contact both the Obama and McCain campaigns and demand they answer our questions and condemn the actions of the police Wednesday night.

They don’t own this election, the media doesn’t own this election, we the people own this election, and we deserve to have our voices heard. Any candidate who disagrees with that statement is unworthy the Presidency of the United States of America.

Peace and Solidarity,

Matthis Chiroux

DO IT!

When I moved here last year, I registered to vote.  Sent in my card and got confimation back and everything.

Well, I just checked on it and turns out I’m not registered.  Naturally, I’ve lost the card completely. 

Thank god I checked and now I’ve still got time.

You should too.

And if you aren’t registered, go and do it now.  You’re almost out of time (like, days literally).

Sgt. Matthis Chiroux

Have you heard about Army Sgt. Matthis Chiroux?

After being honorably discarged last year and serving for four years all over the world, he’s been called back up to serve in Iraq.  He’s refused to go.  Publicly.

Make sure you read his statement.  I think it’s eloquently put and a convincing argument.

But what’s more amazing about this story is that I went to high school with Matthis Chiroux.  We weren’t extremely close, as he was two years younger than I was, but we certainly had many mutual friends and I called him one of mine.  He was at my graduation party, and I jokingly referred to his sister as my “adopted little sister.”

Matthis was a quiet, somewhat self-conscious young man who was a keen observer of the world around him.  He noticed things that other people didn’t (which is one reason I’m so pleased to see that he’s become a journalist).  He was gentle and kind.   I remember hearing through the grapevine- we didn’t stay in contact after I graduated- that he had joined the military and being sad about it.  He never struck me as the type who would be happy in that kind of environment, but as I said, I didn’t know him terribly well. 

It’s a happy occasion to hear that he’s doing well and doing something so strong and brave.  I’m so proud to know that he’s grown into the kind of man who’s willing to stand up to the military and to this adminstration and finally say “enough!”

Good for you, Matthis!  Thank-you.

See a video of the press conference here.

All links via another fellow alum, supercres.

Animal, Vetgable, Miracle

On a lark, I checked out the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver during a hurried trip to the Boston Public Library on my lunch break last Wednesday. I count the proximity of this storied and august institution one of the best perks of my job. At a fast clip, and luck with traffic lights, I can get there in 10-12 minutes. That leaves me a luxurious 30-35 minutes to pick up a few books, ponder frescoes, and eat lunch in what I am convinced is Boston’s best kept secret. But before I give away that secret and bring the flocks of my many (read: one) (Hi Rhea!) Boston readers, let me get back to this book I checked out.

Like I said, a lark. I have never read one of her books, though my sister and the woman who is essentially my surrogate mother both like her. The cover caught my eye for two reasons. First, because it was green- green in a sea of non-fiction somberness. And not just any green- it was the green that I am craving. The green of fresh trees and the first precious blades of long-awaited grass that are so beautiful it is all I can do not to fall to my knees and cuddle it to my weary bosom. Second, because of the beans on the front cover that are enormous and beautiful. They struck me. See:

I vaguely remember my sister and the surrogate mom talking about this book the last time that I was in Alabama, but uncharacteristically, I didn’t pay attention (Oh! Shiny!). I caught something about food on the cover so I figured it was a cookbook of sorts. I was right, but only barely.

I’m not exaggerating when I was this book changed my life. And I don’t mean in the way the 90 BBC television series The Vicar of Dibley changed my life (But sweet baby Jesus you all need to be watching this show. It is a RIOT) and I don’t me the way the South American grain Quinoa is changing my life (but also ditto- the life-changing part not the riot part). I mean it truly changed my life.

You all know I’m haphazardly green. I try, but I’m not nearly as committed as I could or should be. I’ve sworn off plastic bags and petroleum-based laundry detergent (that 7th Generation lavender detergent is changing my life– whoops!), I’ve put a bucket in my bathroom to catch the water when the shower is heating up to water my house plants, and whenever Pete wants to drive the truck somewhere the car could be driven, I give him the stare. Like I say, I’m trying.

One of the things Pete and I have recently done is joined a local community supported farm. This is a wonderful (and not new) idea where you essentially invest in a local farm. Instead of getting a money return, you get it in goods- in this case farm fresh produce for the entire growing season. It’s an expensive initial investment- $450 in our case- which isn’t insignificant for us (and by “isn’t insignificant” what I actually mean is “someone get me a damn paper bag! I’ma gonna faint!”). They do let you pay in installments and that combined with a hefty tax return allowed us to do it. The pay off is a large box of produce and eggs every week from June 1st to October 1st, which works out to somewhere around $25/week- totally reasonable, right?

I am desperately in love with this idea for several reasons. They encourage members of the farm to come by and actually help with the work- planting, harvesting, weeding, building fences. I think I must be weird that that sounds so appealing to me, but I am DYING to get in there and help out. I love agricultural manual labor and I miss being able to do it (I worked in the garden and the yard a lot with my parents as I was growing up), so this is like a super extra wicked awesome bonus for me. Add that to the fact that I am getting plant-ripened local produce (and if you haven’t ever had a tomato that was picked off the vine and eaten 20 minutes later, you are missing one of the greatest moments you can possibly have- and I hate tomatoes!) that is 100% organic and that I am helping to keep a beautiful piece of 200 year old farm land out of the hands of developers and I can’t find a good reason not to do it.

So how does this relate to the book, you ask? Well, it was highly coincidental that we joined this farm and the 5 days later I picked up this book, because it’s about the importance of eating locally and supporting community-based agriculture. Barbara Kingsolver and her family took the dedicated step of moving from Arizona to a farm in Virginia and took a vow to only eat foods that were grown locally (like, literally from their yard or their neighbors yards) for an entire year. It seems completely impossible, especially when you consider that there is no such thing as fresh produce in Virginia in December so everything they were eating in the fall and winter was grown, harvested, and preserved in the summer. And it is so inspiring. They manage it and they manage it without a ridiculous amount of strain or hardship and with an abundance of hilarity.

Seriously, read this book. If you think you are making a difference by living in Boston and eating organic produce, just keep in mind that the tomato you are eating in January, regardless of how it was grown and what chemicals weren’t used, came from somewhere very far away. How much energy is used to drive a refrigerated truck from southern California to Massachusetts? Do you really think that organic sticker makes it worth it?

Two things you should do and two good reasons why

Here’s why you should hate and despise Wal-Mart and never ever shop there.  Because they are an evil corporation who made 90 billion dollars last year and yet they are still trying to steal $200,000 from a severeley brain damaged woman:

The Evil!  It burns!

And here’s why you should buy reusable bags to use at the grocery store.  Because this wasn’t supposed to happen for another 15 years.

Splash!

A post where I’m actually not being sarcastic.

I’m sure that by now you’ve all heard the buzz that has formed around Obama’s recent speech  about race in America.   I had seen bits and snippits of it that I caught on The Daily Show the news, but I was finally able to sit down and read the entire transcript.  I’m sure it is much more powerful when you see it delivered by him, but just in case you haven’t had a chance to do so or you don’t have speakers on your computer (like me, ahem) here’s the full transcript.  It seems very long, I know, but do yourself a favor and read it.  It gave me chills. 
“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.” 

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy.  Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787. 

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished.  It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations. 

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time. 

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States.  What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.  I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.   

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people.  But it also comes from my own American story. 

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.  I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas.  I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations.  I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters.  I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible. 

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate.  But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one. 

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity.  Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country.  In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans. 

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign.  At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.”  We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary.  The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn. 

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap.  On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.  

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy.  For some, nagging questions remain.  Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy?  Of course.  Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church?  Yes.  Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views?  Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.  

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial.  They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice.  Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam. 

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough.  Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask?  Why not join another church?  And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way 

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man.  The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor.  He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones.  Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world.  Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories tha t we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity.  Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger.  Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor.  They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear.  The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright.  As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me.  He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children.  Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect.  He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.  I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
 
These people are a part of me.  And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable.  I can assure you it is not.  I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork.  We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias. 

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.  We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality. 

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect.  And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American. 

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point.  As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried.  In fact, it isn’t even past.”  We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country.  But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations.  That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened.  And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us. 

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up.  They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted.  What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination.  That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future.  Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways.  For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years.  That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends.  But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table.  At times, that anger is exploited by politicia ns, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews.  The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning.  That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change.  But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community.  Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race.  Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch.  They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor.  They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.  So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committ ed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time. 

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company.  But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation.  Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition.  Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends.  Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many.  And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding. 

This is where we are right now.  It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years.  Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union. 

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past.  It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life.  But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family.  And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons.  But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change. 

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society.  It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.  But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change.  That is true genius of this nation.  What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed.   Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations.  It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper. 

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us.  Let us be our sister’s keeper.  Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well. 

For we have a choice in this country.  We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism.  We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news.  We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words.  We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.
 
But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction.  And then another one.  And then another one.  And nothing will change. 

That is one option.  Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.”  This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children.  This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem.  The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy.  Not this time.  

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together. 

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life.  This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit. 

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag.  We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned. 

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country.  This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.  And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election. 

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.   

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina.  She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there. 

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer.  And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care.  They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches.  Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice.  Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally.  But she didn’t.  She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign.  They all have different stories and reasons.  Many bring up a specific issue.  And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time.  And Ashley asks him why he’s there.  And he does not bring up a specific issue.  He does not say health care or the economy.  He does not say education or the war.   He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama.  He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.” 

“I’m here because of Ashley.”  By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough.  It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start.  It is where our union grows stronger.  And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.