Saturday, August 30, 2008

Reflections from Denver - Guest post by Skylanda

I had meant to throw up a couple more posts from the stands at the Democratic National Convention, but (hey, who knew?!) typing on a PDA is harder than it looks. So instead I’ll finish out with a couple days’ retrospect, a reasonably sized keyboard, and a little more sleep than I’ve had in a week.

I’m not a flag-waving sort, but Thursday night in Denver I waved a flag. In general I don’t believe in the sort of thoughtless, jingoistic patriotism it takes to go swinging any nation‘s cloth around in a crowd. And over the last seven years (two weeks out from the seventh anniversary of 9/11, we are), the idea of patriotism and the act of flag-waving has been so usurped by reactionary idealogues in America that any time I see red bars and white stars on a field of blue, my gut tightens with the heavy anticipation of what hatred or hawkishness is coming down the road.

But they were passing out flags Thursday, before the sun went down, so I took one and dutifully pinholed it on the seat back in front of me in a spot usually reserved for Broncos sports paraphenalia.

The afternoon was long and hot and some of those speeches could have been a might bit shorter (though I can’t help but smirk that the afternoon’s entertainment opened with the Yonder Mountain String Band, a collection of bluegrass-picking stoners from just up the road in Boulder…in a venue just a tad larger than the last outdoor bar I saw them play in). The crowd built throughout the afternoon as the hours-long line outside the stadium (which we had the good foresight to hit up in the early afternoon when it was less than 45 minutes long) slowly poured in to fill the seats. The lesser-knowns spoke first - state party officials and campaign managers, House representatives from Midwestern states, a token panel of undersung war heroes. Then the better-knowns - Howard Dean, the New Mexico governor who keeps pretending toward a presidential bid despite that atrocious semi-mullet he insists on sporting, a local member of venerable Udall political clan. Then Al Gore, who comes off as so terribly more presidential that he ever did during his run for office. Then the six American Voices - men and women from across the country telling their own stories of life under the Bush years - who proved that people you would never expect to have a public voice can talk like elder statesmen and stateswomen in front of eighty-thousand live and another how many millions over the airwaves.

And then, the man himself: Barack Obama. And a thunder of applause that could have brought down mountains. He speaks with the intonation of an old-time preacher and the rhetoric of a classical civil rights leader - more electrifying in person than television or YouTube could ever capture - even to a crowd of tens of thousands and under the watchful eye of snipers that roamed the high points of the perimeter. He commands crowds in a manner that Kerry or Gore never could, and even Clinton (the ex-president, not the ex-candidate) never did until the retrospect of the Bush years made him look a whole lot better than he ever did on his own.

He spoke of hard times in America, and how it speaks to the soul of a nation how we face down, put down, or help up those enduring tough times. He spoke of pragmatics like oil independence, educational investment, and covering the uninsured with health care. He spoke of hope, and of renewal, and of a kind of conciliation that understands political opposition as a force not of mal intent, but a force of those who just don’t get it.

His conciliatory stance is sometimes frustrating, and his command of the issues doesn’t line up precisely with the farther left side of the left wing. He put the word “abortion” out of the spotlight, offering up that eternal thorn in the side of pro-choice rights, the safe, legal, and rare clause: “We may not agree on abortion, but we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.” One has to read between lines to understand that it’s not that Obama may disagree with the right wing on the abortion issue, it’s that he does disagree, with 100% score from NARAL on his pro-choice voting records for 2005, 2006, and 2007. The recent change in the Democratic platform both emphasizes the prevention model and staunchly support Roe v. Wade all at one time - a move designed to make the tent bigger, include a greater constituency, please the breadth of the masses.

Which is all a very mixed blessing. On one hand, I would like to see a candidate who is unafraid to stand up for pro-choice rights without this nebulous couching of the issue in a candy wrapper of palatable concession. On the other hand, losing this election by forcing the abortion issue to the front and center - for a candidate who is palpable and provably pro-choice - does not seem like a wise move for anyone interested in preserving a woman’s right to choose. Perhaps this sort of tactic will widen the door of the democratic party to what is probably a quiet majority in the anti-choice movement - those who would like to see fewer abortions, but who are not so bat-shit crazy as to oppose comprehensive sex education and accessible birth control. Pro-choice services and preventing the need for abortions go well together in every-day practice (just go ask your local Planned Parenthood what they have on the table if you don’t believe me); it is only in politics where they make uncomfortable bedfellows, and maybe an alliance between them can go a ways toward actually solving concrete problems rather than miring us down in ideology and battlefield damage control.

Other topics too got a glossing over; environmental protection got a four-word nod to clean water alone…though in a line-up where Obama was preceded almost directly by resident Democratic party environmental guru Al Gore, it is easy to see why this might have already been said better and more thoroughly that Obama had time for.

But the sustaining issues that drew the party to Obama remained the focus.

Front and center: “For the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as president: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.”

Front and center: “As commander-in-chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.”

Front and center: “Now is the time to keep the promise of affordable, accessible healthcare for every single American.”

Front and center: “Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education.”

Front and center: “Now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your son.”

Front and center: “America, now is not the time for small plans.”

I looked up to find that flag in my hand, waving among the tens of thousands of others like it. It’s kind of pretty, you know. All primary colors against the midnight black of a moonless summer sky, backlit by the glow of a thousand stadium spotlights, washed in the populist flash of 80,000 Americans and their digital cameras and cell phone cameras, hoping to capture a moment in history.

Promises are just promises, and they are harder to keep than virginity on prom night, but still. This is the kind of America I could wave a flag about. This is the kind of nation that might make me pick up those colors and believe again.

It will take more than showing up on November 4th to make this happen. It will require will, and effort, and the movement of thousands of people to force a new vision of America into being. Especially in the wake of McCain’s half-hearted, media-grabbing nod to putting a woman on the ballot, it is vital that every American who desires something other than four more years of the same put in the time, here and now. Whether Obama lines up perfectly with your ideals or not (and whether you pressed for a Clinton candidacy, as did I), if you’re reading this blog, chances are he’s a hundred-eighty degrees closer to your place on the spectrum than McCain. Between now and election day, promise yourself that you will do just one thing to put Obama and the litany of progressive candidates in office: Register at least one new voter before the October 4th deadline (later in some states). Skip a latte once a week and send the money it would have bought to the coffers of an activist organization - NARAL, even the Democratic party itself, what have you - working to put progressive women and men in national and local office. Call your local precinct and ask them how you can join up and be a part of the effort. Talk to wavering independents in your family; write a letter to your local newspaper.

Be a part of the process. Make your voice heard. The next four years of this nation’s history depends on us.

Cross-posted at my blog, Loose Chicks Sink Ships.